Vatican Celebrates Blessed John Paul II and New Saints

The faithful and Benedict XVI reflect on holiness.

ROME—Blessed John Paul II was remembered with celebrations all over Rome on Oct. 22, his first feast day since his May 1 beatification earlier this year.

Among other events in Rome, the day was celebrated with a pilgrimage from one papal basilica to another.

Cardinal Angelo Comastri, head priest of St. Peter’s Basilica, started off the pilgrimage in St. Peter’s Square in the early afternoon. It concluded four hours later with a prayer vigil at the Basilica of St. John Lateran. The Diocese of Rome’s vicar, Cardinal Agostino Vallini, then celebrated Mass.

The blessed’s personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisc of Krakow, Poland, celebrated Mass at St. Peter’s earlier in the day with more than 200 other priests and several cardinals and bishops.

In his homily, the Polish cardinal said John Paul II can inspire the New Evangelization.

“Committing ourselves to this work,” he said, “we fulfill in the best way the testament the blessed introduced to the Church in the third millennium of Christianity.”

Also on Saturday, Cardinal Comastri celebrated Mass at Rome’s Shrine of Divine Love. He blessed a new mosaic depicting Blessed John Paul II. The shrine, on the city’s southern edge, was visited by the late Pope just months into his papacy.

Though John Paul II was elected a week prior to Oct. 22, the chosen feast day marks the official beginning of his pontificate in 1978.

The blessed’s memory was also celebrated with multiple Masses, prayers and reflections at the Church of Santo Spirito in Sassia, a Marian sanctuary dedicated to Divine Mercy. Blessed John Paul II established the church himself, and it is now a major pilgrim destination, particularly for Poles, in Rome.

Ken Smith of Dover, Dela., recounted his memories of the Pope’s election in a conversation with CNA on the steps of Santo Spirito.

“I remember when I heard the news,” he said. He heard it on the radio and thought it “amazing” that a Pole would be Pope.

Not long after that, he saw Pope John Paul II for himself.

“We actually were at a Wednesday audience back in 1979,” Smith said.

“I remember him coming down that aisle, and the sun came out. My sister had been here a little earlier, and she had the same experience. The sun shone on him, and he glowed. It was wonderful.”

This year, Smith happened upon the church a day before the feast along with his wife, Lida. They were visiting Rome as a stop on a Mediterranean cruise.

The stop at Santo Spirito was a special moment for them. An enormous painting of Blessed John Paul II was placed behind the main altar for the feast day. There is also a side chapel dedicated to his memory, complete with a blood relic donated by Cardinal Dziwisc.

“It was a thrill for me because I have a Polish background, and he means the world for me and our people,” said Lida.

Her most lasting memory of the Pope?

“His smile mostly, how he suffered and never complained. He’s just a great role model.”

Meanwhile, the Polish priest who is in charge of promoting John Paul II’s cause for sainthood, Father Slawomir Oder, told Vatican Radio that with the first feast day comes a special grace for all those who have prayed for his intercession to bear children.

“For many little Karols, Carolinas and John Pauls born after these prayers,” said Father Oder, “the liturgical memory will be the first name day celebrated in the company of their holy patron.”

On Oct. 23, Pope Benedict canonized three new saints at Mass in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, Vatican Radio reported: Italian Bishop Guido Maria Conforti, the founder of the Society of St. Francis Xavier for Foreign Missions, also known as the Xaverian missionaries. He died in 1931, and in 1996 Blessed John Paul II declared him “Blessed.” Italian Father Luigi Guanella founded the Servants of Charity, the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence, and the Confraternity of St. Joseph. He died in 1915, and Pope Paul VI beatified him on Oct. 25, 1964. Bonifacia Rodriguez Castro from Salamanca, Spain, founded the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the “Nazareth workshop” to help poor and unemployed women. She died in 1905.

“Dear brothers and sisters, I am pleased to greet all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims present, especially those here for today’s canonizations,” Benedict said after the Angelus. “In this Sunday’s Gospel passage, Jesus urges us to love God above all things and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Let us measure our actions every day by his call to love, and live it with courage and joy. May almighty God bless all of you!”

Of the new saints, the Pope said: “Let us be attracted by their examples, let us be guided by their teachings, so that our whole existence becomes a witness of authentic love for God and neighbor.”

Drawing upon the Gospel in which Christ tells an enquiring Pharisee that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” the Pope said that “the visible sign that the Christian can show the world to witness to the love of God is the love of their brethren.”

“How providential is then the fact that today the Church should indicate to all members three new saints who allowed themselves to be transformed by divine love, which marked their entire existence,” said the Pope, explaining that “in different situations and with different charisms, they loved the Lord with all their heart and their neighbor as themselves so as to become a model for all believers.”

Present among the pilgrims was 30-year-old William Glisson from Springfield, Pa. His 2002 miraculous recovery from serious head injuries sustained while rollerblading was attributed to the heavenly intercession of Father Guanella. It was that miracle which led to today’s canonization.

“It’s truly amazing, and it’s extremely humbling that this could be happening,” William told CNA. He is still grateful to all those who prayed to Father Guanella on his behalf.

“Their prayers were answered and I was healed because of that and that he became a saint is just amazing. And the fact that I’m even here, this place is amazing. It’s just hard to even describe, to put into words.”

A minor disruption of today’s ceremony happened when a man, thought to be Romanian, climbed onto the colonnades in St. Peter’s Square and proceeded to burn a Bible.

“Pope, where is Christ?” he shouted in English before throwing the charred Bible to the ground below. The man was talked out of further actions by, among others, the Pope’s chief bodyguard, Domenico Giani.

The Pope himself seemed totally unfazed by the incident and simply carried on with the celebration of Mass.