Pope Francis to canonise John Paul II and John XXIII next April

Pope Francis to canonise John Paul II and John XXIII next April

Michael Gilchrist

According to a recent Vatican statement, Pope Francis has "decreed that Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II will be canonised on 27 April 2014, the Second Sunday of Easter, of the Divine Mercy".

The chosen date is especially significant for John Paul II as it was during his pontificate that the first Sunday after Easter was designated as Divine Mercy Sunday. It was also on this feast that he was beatified in 2011 by his successor, Benedict XVI, while some years earlier, in 2000, John Paul II himself had beatified John XXIII.

In recent months, the final steps paving the way towards Blessed John Paul II's canonisation, including the approval of a second miracle, have been completed.

Pope Francis announced the canonisation date at the end of an "ordinary public consistory", a gathering of cardinals and promoters of the sainthood causes of the two late popes.


During the consistory, Cardinal Angelo Amato, Prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, read the biographies of the two blesseds and highlighted the "service to peace" and the impact both popes had "inside and outside the Christian community" at times of great cultural, political and religious transformation.

The testimonies of their lives, "completely dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel, shine in the Church and reverberate in the history of the world as examples of hope and light," the cardinal said.

The choice of 27 April 2014, was not a complete surprise. Speaking to reporters travelling with him from Brazil to Rome on 28 July, Pope Francis said he had been considering 8 December, but the possibility of icy roads could make it difficult for Polish pilgrims who would travel by bus to Rome for the ceremony.

The other option, he said, was Divine Mercy Sunday, a celebration instituted worldwide by Pope John Paul. Since the beginning of his pontificate in March, Pope Francis has emphasised God's mercy and readiness to forgive those who recognise their need for pardon.

He told reporters on the above flight that Pope John Paul's promotion of Divine Mercy Sunday showed his intuition that a new "age of mercy" was needed in the Church and the world.

Asked on the plane to describe the two late popes, Pope Francis said Blessed John was "a bit of the 'country priest,' a priest who loves each of the faithful and knows how to care for them; he did this as a bishop and as a nuncio".

He was holy, patient, had a good sense of humour and, especially by calling the Second Vatican Council, was a man of courage, Pope Francis said. "He was a man who let himself be guided by the Lord." The 50th anniversary of Vatican II was celebrated during the recent Year of Faith.

Regarding Blessed John Paul, Pope Francis said, "I think of him as 'the great missionary of the Church'," because he was "a man who proclaimed the Gospel everywhere".

Earlier, on 5 July, Pope Francis signed a decree recognising the miracle needed for Blessed John Paul's canonisation. This involved a Costa Rican woman who was healed of a terminal brain aneurysm on 1 May 2011, the date of John Paul II's beatification.

On the same day, the Vatican announced that Francis had agreed with members of the Congregation for Saints' Causes that the canonisation of Blessed John XXIII should go forward even without a second miracle attributed to his intercession.

While except in the case of martyrdom, Vatican rules require one miracle for a candidate's beatification and a second for his or her canonisation, a pope has the authority to waive the second miracle requirement.

According to Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo, one of the main aspects of John XXIII's and John Paul II's legacies was the manner in which their papacies were influenced by their "humble beginnings".

Monsignor Figueiredo, who is adjunct spiritual advisor and director of the Institute for Continuing Theological Education at the Pontifical North American College in Rome, noted that John XXIII (Angelo Roncalli) was born to a poor large family and upon his election as Pope, took the name "John" because it was his father's name.

Roncalli served as a military chaplain during World War I and "would say he would come back to his room alone at night, fall on his knees, and really cry thinking about the poor men who had been killed on the fields", said Msgr Figueiredo.

It was likewise with Karol Wojtyla who, along with other trials, lived through the German occupation of Poland. These experiences, the Monsignor said, influenced "his own papacy, his own life, where he stresses the dignity of the human person, made in the image and likeness of God".


Another key aspect of their legacies, he said, was how they entrusted their sufferings to God.

John XXIII, for instance, developed stomach cancer, eventually becoming bedridden. "He confided to a friend at the end of his life: 'Look up at that Crucifix. That's who I look at when I wake up in the morning and that's who I look at before I go to bed. That sums up the whole of my pontificate. The arms outstretched of Jesus on the Cross: no one is excluded'."

"The Cross became a pivotal point for him," Msgr Figueiredo said.

More recently, many still recall how John Paul II went from being youthful-looking and energetic for his age to becoming frail and eventually unable to speak, as a result of Parkinson's disease.

"We remember him leaning on the cross, which became an icon of his pontificate," Msgr Figueiredo noted. "His sufferings became the greatest pulpit from which he ever preached. Many of us hide our physical infirmities, we hide our sufferings. But [for him] they became like a badge of honour because the cross became the cornerstone upon which everything else was built."

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