On April 27, Pope Francis will canonise two of his recent predecessors, Blessed Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, in an event which reflects both the personal holiness of his predecessors, their inspirational character as leaders, and confirmation of the agendas which they set for the Church.
The elections of both John XXIII and John Paul II constituted a break with the past. John XXIII, aged 76, was elected on the 11th ballot in October 1958, and was initially regarded as a stop-gap pope, succeeding the immensely popular Pius XII, who had served for almost 20 years.
The new pope had a self-deprecating manner and a wonderfully friendly disposition which was deeply admired by both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. During World War II, when he was papal nuncio in Bulgaria, he saved the lives of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi Holocaust. As Pope, he visited prisons and hospitals, as well as Rome's parish churches.
John XXIII served for only four-and-a-half years before his death, but in that time, he convened the Second Vatican Council, in part because Vatican I had ended prematurely and was clearly incomplete, but also because he wanted to refurbish the Church's mission to confront the new challenges which had emerged in the 20th century.
In contrast, Pope John Paul II – also called John Paul the Great – served as pope for over 26 years, from 1978 to 2005. Coming from Poland, he was the first non-Italian pope in over 450 years.
He was an incredibly gifted communicator, publishing 14 encyclicals and many more apostolic letters.
He commenced the World Youth Days, addressed millions of people on visits to over 120 countries, including Australia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, ended the doctrinal and liturgical confusion which followed Vatican II, helped bring about the collapse of Soviet communism through his visits to his homeland after being elected pope, and formulated the Theology of the Body, a meditation on human sexuality.
Their example, and their personal holiness, are inspirations to us all.
Peter Westmore is Publisher of AD2000.