VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has yet to make the date official, but Pope Francis has already let it be known in a private conversation that Blessed Pope John Paul II will be canonized on April 27, 2014.
A reliably informed source close to the Vatican asked Pope Francis about the date recently, to which the Pope replied with a laugh: “I can tell you now if you like. It will be April 27.”
“I was surprised by his frankness, but he took a step back, laughed and then told me the date,” the source said. “He was surrounded by top officials who didn’t seem to mind.”
Among those within earshot was Archbishop Georg Gänswein, prefect of the pontifical household, who will be partly responsible for organizing the canonization ceremony.
Blessed Pope John XXIII, who led the Church from 1958 to 1963 and convened the Second Vatican Council, is also expected to be canonized on the same date.
During a papal press conference on his return from Rio de Janeiro July 28, Pope Francis said both popes will be canonized “together,” but said it was unlikely the canonizations would take place during the autumn or winter, as many Poles will be traveling to Rome by bus, and the roads are already icy in Poland and parts of Europe in December. “I think the date needs to be rethought,” he said.
After speaking with Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul II’s former private secretary and current archbishop of Krakow, he said two other possibilities arose: Christ the King Sunday, which falls this year on Nov. 24, and Divine Mercy Sunday 2014, which will be April 27.
Pope Francis said he thought there was “too little time” for the canonizations to take place in November and said he needed to speak with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The cardinal said at the end of August that the date will be officially announced at a consistory of cardinals on Sept. 30.
Asked on Sept. 3 if he could confirm the date, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told the Register: "The consistory is held precisely in order to establish and announce the date publicly, so I don't think it's correct to say that the thing is already decided. If it isn't, we should save ourselves for the consistory.”
But he added: “We can say that it is very likely, given that the Pope made an explicit reference to this date (Divine Mercy Sunday) in the interview on the return flight from Rio, saying that he realized that, in winter, it would be difficult for pilgrims from Poland and countries of Central and Northern Europe to attend, and so it was better to postpone until the spring."
Divine Mercy Sunday was a special day for Blessed John Paul II, who established the feast day in 2001. Celebrated on the second Sunday of Easter, its origins date back to Polish nun St. Faustina Kowalska, who had a devotion to the Divine Mercy after an encounter with Jesus.
In visions and conversations with Jesus, St. Faustina (1905-1938) said that he asked her specifically for a feast of Divine Mercy to be established so mankind would take refuge in Jesus. John Paul II died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005.
The theme of mercy is also central to the pontificate of Pope Francis, who has said, “This is the time for mercy.” Father Lombardi told Vatican Radio July 30 that Pope Francis has “great effectiveness in helping people understand the theme of God's love and mercy, which reaches out to soothe and heal the wounds of humanity.”
Pope Francis signed a decree July 5 that gave the go-ahead for the canonizations of both Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. Usually two miracles attributed to a candidate’s intercession are required to become a saint.
A French religious sister, who was inexplicably cured of Parkinson's disease, led to Blessed John Paul II’s beatification on May 1, 2011. A second miracle, which must occur after a beatification, involved a Costa Rican woman who was cured of a cerebral aneurism the very day of John Paul II’s beatification.
For Blessed John XXIII, Pope Francis took the rare but not unprecedented step of waiving the requirement of a second miracle, paving the way for his canonization.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.