A feast of faith
April 30, 2014
Canonization of Sts John XXIII and John Paul II, April 27, 2014
View of St. Peter's Square
From long before dawn people from around the world have been arriving at St Peter’s Square, even without knowing whether they would manage to get in, because so many pilgrims are expected. Once they have found a place, the hours of waiting seem like a very short time, enlivened by hymns, songs and conversations with other people from different countries. Some even find space to lie down and catch up on their sleep.
Liu and Jiang from Beijing, China, together with their aunt, who lives in the US, got to the very front row in the square. Liu explains that she decided to travel to the canonization of the two Popes because when she was little her father had talked to her about John XXIII with great affection. “And John Paul II was the Pope I grew up with, he’s been part of my life ever since I was small.”
Pilgrims from around the world participated in the canonization of the two Popes
Liu belongs to the eighth generation of Catholics in her family. Her ancestors suffered religious persecution during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.
She says, with deep emotion: “Today we’re here with four Popes: Benedict has given us wonderful theology and we respect his wisdom, and Pope Francis represents the hope of his people.”
Cristina and her husband are Romans themselves, and they too wanted to do all they could to participate in today’s ceremony, because they owe a debt of gratitude to St John Paul II. While he was dying they were in St Peter’s Square, accompanying him with their prayer. At the moment when he died they were saying the rosary, supporting him to the very end. The next day they went to the solemn Requiem Mass for him. At that time they had been married for four years and so far had been unable to have children, and they commended themselves especially to his intercession. In due course their daughter Benedetta, now 8, was born. Cristina has no doubt at all that St John Paul II was their intermediary before God.
Rita arrived from Calabria with her husband in a wheelchair. She says she feels an inexplicable joy and sense of peace. “Amidst so much confusion, so many nationalities, so many languages, we are celebrating the two saints of the unity of the Church, two Popes who were very alike in their simplicity.”
Rita with her husband and her niece
She adds proudly that her son Andrea, 26, is one of the volunteers helping with the smooth running of the ceremony.
Daniel is Austrian, living in Poland. He feels particularly close to John Paul II, because when he was a baby the Polish Pope blessed him during an audience. He made the 12-hour trip here by road with friends.
Judith, Congolese, lives in France. She says she always wanted to visit St Peter’s, but has never been able to until now. When she was little she saw John Paul II on television, but at that time she didn’t really understand what it meant that that man was the visible head of the Church on earth. She was able to see John Paul II when he visited Congo. She remembers how everyone rushed to see the Pope and she managed to wriggle through to the front row because she was so small. When she grew up she came to understand more about the Pope’s role.
Judit from Congo
She describes St John Paul II as “the humanist Pope, the evangelist, the simple Pope. The great Pope who brought the Christian message to the people of God.” She adds that God gives holiness to someone, but that holiness is shown in the way they say yes to Him.
At about 9.30 the Bishops, priests and other dignitaries took their places. An especially moving moment was when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI appeared: he was met with a long outburst of applause that rang through the square in affection and gratitude.
The ceremony began punctually at 10 o’clock. While the choir sang the litany of the saints, the procession of the celebrants made its way to the altar. Hundreds of thousands of people followed the singing with devout prayer. Soon afterwards came the much-awaited moment: the formula of canonization by which Pope Francis declared and defined that John XXIII and John Paul II were saints.
During the Mass, the Gospel was sung both in Latin, the official language of the Church, and Greek. One of the petitions was read by the religious sister who was cured of her sickness through John Paul II’s intercession, in the miracle which was decisive for his beatification. The reliquary of Pope John Paul II was carried to the altar by Floribeth Mora, the Costa Rican woman whose healing in 2011 was the miracle used for his canonization. The reliquary of Pope John XXII was carried by his own great-niece and great-nephew.
In his homily, Pope Francis talked about the Gospel for the Second Sunday of Easter, which tells how the Risen Christ appeared to the Apostles gathered in the Upper Room. The Pope talked about Jesus’ Wounds: they are, he said, “a scandal, a stumbling-block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith. That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us. They are essential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness.” He went on to talk about the new saints: “Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church. In convening the Council, Saint John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader, guided by the Holy Spirit. This was his great service to the Church; for this reason I like to think of him as the pope of openness to the Holy Spirit. In his own service to the People of God, Saint John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.”
At the end of the Mass the Pope thanked all the pilgrims who had come from all over the world, especially those from the dioceses of Krakow and Bergamo. And he ended by saying that we had taken part in a historic day, a feast of faith.