VATICAN CITY — Countless tributes have been pouring in for Blessed Popes John XXIII and John Paul II after Pope Francis officially announced they will be elevated to the altars at a joint canonization Mass on April 27, 2014, Divine Mercy Sunday.
The Holy Father decreed at an ordinary public consistory in the Vatican Sept. 30 that the two greatly loved popes will be “enrolled among the saints” on the Second Sunday of Easter next year.
The announcement, which was widely expected, is considered highly appropriate, given that Divine Mercy Sunday was a special day for Blessed John Paul II, who established the feast in 2000.
Its origins date back to Polish nun St. Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), who had a devotion to the Divine Mercy after an encounter with Jesus. In visions and conversations with Jesus, St. Faustina said Jesus asked her specifically for a feast of Divine Mercy to be established so mankind would take refuge in Jesus. Blessed John Paul II died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005.
“The canonization date couldn’t be more appropriate,” said John Paul II’s biographer, George Weigel.
“John Paul II knew that the late modern world bore terrible spiritual scars from the experiences of two world wars, the Gulag, the Holocaust, the Ukrainian terror famine, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Cambodian and Rwandan genocides, the abortion slaughter and so much more,” Weigel told the Register.
“He also knew that the answer to all that had been given in the vision of Divine Mercy granted to Sister Faustina. That’s why he ‘extended’ what many once regarded as a distinctly Polish phenomenon to the entire world Church — and indeed to the entire world.”
Msgr. Slawomir Oder, postulator of John Paul II’s cause for canonization, told Vatican Radio Sept. 30 that the “whole pontificate of John Paul II is a message of the Divine Mercy,” and he noted that it is also a key theme of Pope Francis’ pontificate. “I see in Pope Francis an extraordinary continuation of this message,” he said.
Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, said he believes that the canonization is a prophecy come true. Recalling the cries of “Santo subito” (Saint now!) immediately following John Paul II’s death, he said his canonization was “a pious wish of the people of God.”
“It really was a prophecy,” he told Avvenire, the newspaper of the the Italian bishops’ conference. “The Holy Father often refers to the instinct of the people of God, of this ‘sense of the faithful’ that anticipates official pronouncements of the Church. The recognition of the sanctity of John Paul II took place just like this.”
Cardinal Rylko said he felt moved when Pope Francis made the announcement, in Latin, in the Consistory Hall in the Apostolic Palace. He also shared his views on the remarkable effect John Paul II had on people.
“Every time I go in the basilica of St. Peter, I am impressed by what I dare to call a ‘permanent audience’ that takes place in front of the altar with his relics, where the faithful remain in prayer,” the cardinal said. “John Paul II is the pope whose death brought him even closer to the people. And his special ‘audiences’ continue every day.”
Knowing and working closely with him was “a grace,” Cardinal Rylko said, but added that that grace “is also a huge responsibility, because the saints are teachers, and their teaching must be upheld.”
“Pope John Paul II tells us that holiness is not something far away, but the high level of ordinary Christian living,” he said. “So his holiness is not one of monuments or saints, but asks to be lived and imitated.”
Meanwhile, in Sotto il Monte, the birthplace of Angelo Roncalli, who would later become Pope John XXIII, bells were rung out in celebration of the announcement.
Msgr. Loris Capovilla, John XXIII’s private secretary, now in his 90s, still lives there. Speaking to Vatican Radio Sept. 30, he recalled that when he first saw then-Archbishop Roncalli in a photo taken in 1950, his first impression was that he had “seen the picture of goodness.”
He recalled him saying that if you do not put your “I” under your feet, “you'll never be free and never enter into the land of peace.” They were words the pope would bear in mind when he called the Second Vatican Council, Msgr. Capovilla said, “with those sublime words : ‘My person counts for nothing, a great lesson in humility, meekness, love and hope.’”
For John XXIII, Pope Francis has dispensed with the need for a second miracle attributed to his intercession, usually required for a canonization. But this decision was not as arbitrary as it might seem.
Some have also read into the possible meaning of having a joint canonization, that it is aimed at unifying two sides of the Church, or an attempt to “canonize the Second Vatican Council.” But a Vatican source closely connected with the cause dismissed this, saying the causes “were ready, and so we went ahead.”
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters Sept. 30 the decision to canonize John XXIII without a second miracle was also “connected to the context of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council,” as well as the “universal fame of sanctity” surrounding him. The Vatican source also pointed out that many unconfirmed miracles had been associated with John XXIII that it wasn't thought necessary to undertake an exhaustive investigation. "It may seem like the Pope is waiving it, but, in reality, there have been so many [unconfirmed] miracles for John XXIII: Why wait for a [confirmed] miracle?" he said.
Father Lombardi also recalled that, on the papal plane back from Rio, Pope Francis had referred to John XXIII has the one who set the Church on a new path after the Council and that John Paul II was the “great enabler” of the Council teachings.
He further noted that John XXIII also dispensed with the need for a second miracle when he canonized the first saint of his pontificate, St. Gregory Barbarigo, a 17th-century cardinal and diplomat.
Vatican officials have told the Register that the reaction to the announcement of the canonizations has been very positive. “We’ve been waiting for the longest time, so it’s a beautiful thing that it’s happening,” said one.
Msgr. Oder stressed that the “certainty of canonization is the certainty that John Paul II is truly in heaven in the sight of God and intercedes for us.”
“A saint of our times means a saint who knows our joy, our concerns, our problems, pains; a saint who has the opportunity to interpret our deeper issues and ask for Divine grace for these needs,” he said. “But, on the other hand, he is an example of life, a sure guide in pointing the way to meet the challenges of the day, to give witness to the Christian life.”
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent
and a contributor to EWTN News Nightly.