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U.S. Faithful Plan Events to Commemorate Sainthood of John XXIII and John Paul II
BY Jonathan Liedl
Editor's note: This has been updated since the story went to press in the print edition.
Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims are expected to flock to Rome on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, for the canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II.
But for those Americans who can’t make the trans-Atlantic trip, there will be plenty of fanfare and celebration stateside, as two of the 20th century’s most beloved popes become saints.
The jubilation will be particularly pronounced in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Home to more people of Polish descent than any other city except for Warsaw, Poland’s capital, Chicago’s Polish community will be pulling out all the stops to celebrate the canonization of fellow countryman Karol Wojtyla, the Krakow cardinal who became Pope John Paul II in 1978.
Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Wypych, the archdiocese’s liaison with Chicago’s Polish community, said the city’s Poles were "filled with joy" as John Paul the Great approached sainthood. Bishop Wypych added that John Paul II’s canonization is not only of religious significance to Poles, but is also a source of national pride.
"He is the most important person in [Poland’s] 1,000-year history," the bishop told the Register. "We’ve never had anyone like him … so he is the most important person for Poles, those who [are Catholic] and those who [aren’t]."
The canonization will also be meaningful for Bishop Wypych on a personal level: A native of Poland, he was ordained to the priesthood by then-Cardinal Wojtyla 35 years ago. The bishop said he is "excited and grateful" to have had such a close relationship with a man who displayed incomparable "integrity and consistency."
"He is my hero; he is my role model," Bishop Wypych said of John Paul II. "In so many ways, I try to imitate his approach as a bishop."
Bishop Wypych will travel to Rome for the canonizations of the two popes, along with 400 other Chicagoans who belong to a variety of sponsoring organizations in the archdiocese. But those who couldn’t make the pilgrimage will be as close to the Vatican as possible without leaving Illinois.
At Five Holy Martyrs parish, a midnight vigil will precede the canonizations. The celebration includes recitation of the Rosary, poems about Blessed John Paul II and musical performances, including Polish Highlander music. A live transmission of the canonization Mass from Rome will be displayed at 3am.
A bilingual Mass (English and Polish) will be celebrated at 11:30am at St. Stephen, Deacon & Martyr parish in Tinley Park, Ill. A first-class relic (a drop of Blessed John Paul II’s blood) will also be displayed for veneration.
Of course, as Bishop Wypych points out, while John Paul II is an important figure in the Polish community, the canonization of Pope John XXIII, fondly known as "the Good Pope," is also a cause for considerable celebration.
At Pope John XXIII School, an archdiocesan grade school in Evanston, Ill., school won’t be in session on the day of the canonization, but a significant chunk of the school day on the Monday following the canonization will be devoted to celebrating their patron’s sainthood.
As religion teacher Erica Whitmore put it, the canonization of the pope the school is named for is a "once-in-a-lifetime experience for a school community."
Mass is scheduled on April 27 for 1pm, and it will be followed by a celebration that will include a re-airing of EWTN’s coverage of the canonization Mass.
Assistant Principal Ann McCarthy said the school has been preparing for the big day since news broke last summer that Pope John XXIII would be canonized.
"We actually had an expert come in early in the school year and give a presentation to our staff and faculty on the significance of Pope John XXIII and what he meant to the Church," said McCarthy, "and we’ve been working that into our classroom instruction all year."
She said students were excited for their school’s namesake to become a saint, but there was an added incentive as well.
"We’ve made shirts commemorating the canonization, and students will be able to wear those instead of their uniforms for a few days."
John XXIII Seminary
There was no word on whether the seminarians at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Mass., are to be exempt from their dress code, but they are also excited that Pope John is a saint. The seminary is sponsoring a pilgrimage to Rome for the canonizations, and 50 members of the seminary community are expected to make the trip.
For those staying in the greater Boston area, the seminary is displaying personal items from John XXIII’s papacy, including the prayer book that was on the Italian pope’s prie-dieu on the day he died in 1963.
Father Bill Murphy, a member of the seminary’s faculty, said that while the pope’s canonization might give the seminary some publicity, he’s not necessarily expecting an uptick in vocations, as "the discernment process goes deeper than that." But that doesn’t mean he thinks Pope John XXIII doesn’t play a role.
"Certainly, we can depend on the prayers of ‘the Good Pope’ to sustain and strengthen our mission."
On opposite coasts, two institutions named for Pope John Paul II are planning to celebrate not only his canonization, but also significant events that coincide with the big day.
John Paul the Great Catholic University, which recently moved from San Diego to Escondido, Calif., will dedicate its new campus in honor of the Polish pope on May 3.
"John Paul the Great has been a model and an inspiration for everything that we as a university do," said Tim Van Damm, vice president of advancement. He added that it’s fitting that the university celebrates its new campus at the same time it celebrates its namesake’s sainthood.
The university had been building up to the canonization and dedication with events throughout the month of April, and Van Damm said there is a "palpable excitement in the air on campus." A weekly lecture series, held every Wednesday in April at 7pm, highlighted John Paul II’s various teachings; and on April 26, the night before the canonization, the university is to host a night of festivities, including a vigil Mass at 6pm. Van Damm said the public is welcome at any event, and those who plan to attend are to RSVP at JPCatholic.com.
Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez will lead the "Pope John Paul II Canonization Celebration and Vigil" April 26 at 10pm Eastern. The event will air live on EWTN, and the network has a full schedule of John XXIII and John Paul II documentaries and original programs leading up to the canonization. Check local listings for specific scheduling information at EWTN.com.
The Blessed John Paul II Shrine will similarly be conducting a double celebration, commemorating the pope’s canonization and its own elevation to the status of a national shrine.
Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, made the announcement on March 19, stating that "the American bishops are pleased to reflect the love of Catholics in America for John Paul II by designating this location a national shrine."
On April 27, coinciding with the canonization, the facility will henceforth be known as the National Shrine of St. John Paul II.
"We look forward to welcoming pilgrims to the premier U.S. site dedicated to the life and work of John Paul II," said the shrine’s executive director, Patrick Kelly. "We hope the pilgrims will leave this place of prayer with a sense that their lives, like that of John Paul, are a pilgrimage — and that sanctity is possible for all."
On canonization weekend, the shrine will host an all-night prayer vigil, including a simulcast of the canonization Mass in St. Peter’s Square, confessions and a Mass of thanksgiving. A first-class relic of the new saint will be available for veneration.
Celebration of Happiness
Auxiliary Bishop Wypych of Chicago said the fanfare surrounding the canonizations of the two popes emphasizes the important role the saints play in the life of the faithful. He also said that, much like St. Thomas Aquinas, John Paul II and John XXIII will have an influence on the Church long after their deaths.
"They were such holy men, and their contributions to the Church will not stop anytime soon."
The bishop also said that the significance of becoming a saint can also have a great personal impact on individual Catholics, who need to be reminded that "sainthood means happiness."
"It is important that we know that the way we walk leads us to happiness. We all want to be happy, and sainthood is an example that our brothers and sisters achieved happiness. These two great men are in heaven. If they could achieve it, we can, too."
Jonathan Liedl writes from