Fifty years after Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council that revolutionised the Catholic church, will the jolly man known as the "Good Pope" be declared a saint of the Roman Catholic Church? Perhaps the better question is: should he be, asks Greg Tobin in an article for the Religion News Service, published by NCR Online.
On the evening of June 3, 1963, John XXIII died, his family, doctors and household staff present in the papal apartments where he had lived for four and a half years. The Vatican press office issued this terse statement: "He suffers no more."
Immediately, there was a movement by some close to the deceased pope to have him canonized by acclamation, as saints had been during the early centuries of the church. The first session of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) had ended in December 1962, and the pope had published his landmark encyclical letter, Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) in April 1963.
He was beloved by people throughout the world who understood the historic significance of his brief pontificate and of his council project.
It was reported at the time that Belgian Cardinal Leo Suenens, who was close to John XXIII and a leading voice in the council, favored a quick move to proclaim him a saint, eschewing the lengthy processes that could sap the energy and enthusiasm from the cause. Suenens said people needed new and contemporary figures as models of sanctity to inspire them in their spiritual lives.
A proposal was circulated among the bishops, urging quick action, but traditionalist leaders and the Vatican's Congregation for the Causes of Saints won the day. John XXIII's successor, Pope Paul VI, announced in 1965 that two sainthood causes would be opened: for both Pope Pius XII and John XXIII. Two investigations began, one of which culminated in 2000 with John XXIII being beatified, or proclaimed "Blessed," the penultimate step to sainthood.
Only 80 of the 264 popes are officially recognized as saints (not counting St. Peter himself, but among his successors as bishop of Rome). In the last 400 years, ever since the church strictly formalized the process for canonisation that includes investigations and verifications of miracles, only two popes have been declared saints: Pius V (16th century) and Pius X, the first pope of the 20th century.
So, despite the enthusiasm of the rank-and-file and even many highly placed supporters, the chances for any pope achieving sainthood are surprisingly slim.
FULL STORY Should John XXIII be a saint? (NCR)