Popes John Paul II, John XXIII canonized in Vatican City
Ann Marie Jakubowski | Sunday, April 27, 2014
On Sunday, the legacies of four popes combined in St. Peter’s Square when John XXIII and John Paul II were canonized by Pope Francis in a Mass attended by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Vatican Radio estimated that around 800,000 people flocked to the St. Peter’s Square area Sunday, making it the largest event in Vatican City since Pope Francis’s 2013 election.
Timothy O’Malley, director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy, said because the canonization of popes is a rare occassion, the celebration of two in a single ceremony was unique.
“There’s a special joy in this ceremony of John Paul II being canonized, because he canonized the greatest number of saints by far, more than anyone else before him,” O’Malley said. “He had a very deep commitment to the lives of the saints, and so it’s fitting that he’ll be canonized now and join their ranks.”
O’Malley said John XXIII’s canonization was prompted by the whole Church asking for him to be recognized as a saint and to celebrate his feast day.
“John XXIII has been Blessed for a long time … but when you’re beatified, you’re not put automatically on the universal calendar of the Church,” he said. “Dioceses asked to celebrate his feast, showing that John XXIII has become universally important, and thus his canonization is a recognition that the whole Church already perceives him as a saint.”
The dual papal canonization took place on Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast day very important to John Paul II’s spirituality — but while the Polish pontiff had more connections to the specific date, O’Malley said the decision to canonize the two together is significant.
“John XXIII was someone who set forth the Second Vatican Council, and John Paul II had such a force on implementing it in the way that he did,” O’Malley said. “There’s a way in which both popes are taken up into this [date].”
John XXIII led the Church from 1958-1963, succeeded by Paul VI and John Paul I. John Paul II was pope from 1978-2005, then Benedict XVI led from 2005 until February 2013, and Francis was installed March 13, 2013.
O’Malley said all four popes were interested in the relationship of the Church to the modern world and sought particular ways to deal with that.
“You can see John XXIII’s calling of the Second Vatican Council as a promulgation of the Church’s openness to the world,” he said. “And with Pope John Paul II, in some ways he was responsible for the fall of communism in Poland. When he went to Poland in the earliest days of his papacy, it changed the world.”
He said as a scholar, Benedict has used his writing and explanations of the faith “to engage seriously with the world,” even writing a letter “as a very serious response … in a spirit of love and charity” to an atheist who critiqued his book “Introduction to Christianity.” O’Malley said Francis also has sought to actively engage the world with Catholicism.
“I think you can say that they all have different understandings of the world … but all of them are serious about the Church’s engagement in the world,” he said.
O’Malley said he had no doubt that the legacies of John XXIII and John Paul II have shaped Notre Dame and its mission.
“John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, and perhaps nothing has done more to shape the University’s mission and identity than its understanding of its relationship to the world,” he said. “As far as John Paul II goes … it’s a remarkable thing to think that basically from the late 70s to the year 2005, every student who came to Notre Dame knew John Paul II as Pope, the only Pope they’d had.
“So that means a great deal of religious life, religious philosophy, the things that we study in the classroom, Catholic Social Teaching — it was shaped by John Paul II. Which means that a great deal of the religious intellectual life here on campus has been formed by that pope.
“Notre Dame is different because these two popes existed, just as the whole Church is.”