On May 16, 2004, I had the honor and privilege to be at St. Peter’s in Rome, along with my wife, Susannah, our 2-year-old son, Leo, and our unborn daughter, Gianna, for the canonization of Saint Gianna Beretta Molla and five others by John Paul II. What a joy to be present at such a glorious event! I felt that if our own Gianna had been big enough (she was only a few weeks old at the time) she would have emulated St. John the Baptist by leaping for joy in her mother’s womb at the sheer wonder of being in the presence of Christ on such a holy occasion. As she was not yet able to do so, her parents expressed her joy vicariously as we witnessed the mystical birth of a saint who is an icon of modern motherhood and the culture of life.

Saint Gianna Beretta Molla is but one of a heavenly host of holy men and women who were canonized or beatified by John Paul II. In an age that shuns nobility and vilifies virtue the men and women who were raised to the altar during St. John Paul’s inspiring pontificate emerge as countercultural heroes and heroines, showing us the way through the darkness of the culture of death in the presence of the Source of all Life.

As a means of introducing some of these Saints and Blesseds, I’m going to indulge myself, and beg the reader’s indulgence, with a personal selection of some of my own favourites amongst them. In doing so, I must begin by confessing the sins of omission that accompany such self-indulgence and invite the reader to discover the other holy men and women whom St. John Paul canonized or beatified.

Apart from obvious favourites, such as Mother Teresa and Padre Pio (to give them their less grandiose, non-canonized names), I have a particular devotion to Pope (now Blessed) Pius IX. What a defiant opponent of regressive “progress,” and what an indefatigably courageous defender of the Church against the rise of secular fundamentalism! Along with St. Pius X and Popes Pius XI and XII, Blessed Pius IX is one of the four “pious” pillars upon which (under grace) the Church’s resistance to communism, modernism, Nazism and liberal eugenicism rest securely.

I’m delighted that the Emperor Karl I has been beatified. His example of true Christian kingship, i.e., kingship as service, kingship that subjects itself in humility to the needs of its subjects, is an image of the Kingship of Christ and is worthy, therefore, of its place among the Blessed at His right hand. It is also gratifying to see the beatification of those martyred at the hands of communism. Blessed Vicente David Vilar, one of thousands of Christians killed at the hands of the communist and anarchist Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, kept the most difficult of Our Lord’s commandments, loving his enemies even as they were about to shoot him in cold blood. “I forgive you,” were his last immortal words. Blessed Miguel Pro’s last words, uttered with his arms stretched out like Christ on the Cross as he faced his Mexican Marxist executioners, were “Viva Cristo Rey!” Long live Christ the King! These were also the last words of the 14-year-old, José Luis Sánchez del Río, exclaimed as he was being repeatedly stabbed by his communist executioners.

Another martyr, though of a somewhat different sort, is Blessed Laura Vicuña, sometimes described as “the ‘other’ Maria Goretti,” who suffered sexual and physical abuse, eventually dying of her injuries. And, last but not least, how can we fail to mention Louis and Zélie Martin, the now beatified parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who have rightly become icons of marital love and the self-sacrificial Christian parenthood that puts Planned Parenthood to shame.

This is but a sprinkling of the sparkling firmament of holiness that St. John Paul raised to the altar. In coming to know these holy men and women better we enter into an adventure that offers a true vision of Christian heroism. We have our imagination baptized by their blood, our faith fortified by their courage, our hope heartened by their deeds, and our love enflamed by their passion. And, most importantly, as confirmed by their beatification or canonization by the Church, we will know that they are able to intercede for us at God’s right hand. Deo gratias! Viva Cristo Rey!