Yesterday's announcement by Pope Francis of the canonization of Blessed John Paul II was not a surprise. But the announcement of the canonisation of John XXIII was, writes Fr James Martin SJ in America magazine.
From the time of his death in 2005, when crowds shouted 'Santo Subito!' in St. Peter's Square, to Pope Benedict XVI's waiving of the normal five-year rule (the process of canonization normally doesn't begin until five years after a person's death) to this week's leaked news that the second required miracle had been approved, the official announcement had been expected.
What was not expected in today's announcement, which came during a meeting with the prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, was the approval of the canonization of Blessed John XXIII, whose process seemed to have languished in the past few years.
Still more surprising was the news that the Pope had waived the standard second miracle. Federico Lombardi, SJ, the papal spokesperson, explained, 'Despite the absence of a second miracle, it was the Pope's will that the Sainthood of the great Pope of the Second Vatican Council be recognized.'
Fr Lombardi noted that of course the pope has the authority to 'dispense' with that requirement, and also added that there had been discussions among theologians and experts about whether two miracles were needed for beatification and canonization. As ever, Pope Francis surprises. (Perhaps John XXIII's second miracle was the election of Francis.)
The two popes appeal to a wide variety of Catholics. John Paul's popularity seemed only to grow as his papacy continued, and has remained strong among Catholics since his death. A man of firm faith, a tireless evangelist, and a strong foe of both communism and poverty, John Paul II became, much as he might dislike the use of the word, a religious rock star.
Perhaps the most admirable quality of the man was his determination: his early life laboring under a Communist regime in Poland, his incredible series of papal trips, and his long battle against Parkinson's disease showed the world spiritual grit. But the man some call John Paul the Great was not perfect: revelations about the crimes of Father Marcial Maciel, the disgraced founder of the Legion of Christ, who both fathered and abused children, cast doubts on John Paul's judgment. But no saint is without flaw: the saints themselves will tell you that.
The renown of John XXIII, on the other hand, seemed to declined among in some quarters of the church, though for those who love him, he is an immense hero. (Some of this decline was inevitable: the simple aging and death of those alive during his years as pope meant fewer admirers.)
Humble, humorous, affable, clever and creative, the man who convoked the Second Vatican Council, which came upon him, he said, not as the fruit of long meditation but, as 'the flower of an unexpected spring,' is beloved as Good Pope John.
But John XXIII was not, as some would have him, simply a jolly, roly-poly old man. A veteran diplomat and a well-read expert in church history, the former Patriarch of Venice was able to deftly steer the church towards the dangerous shores of renewal. He was also strong in his opposition to that worst of traits in the Catholic church: pessimism.
In response to those who portended only peril and danger in the world, Pope John responded succinctly in his Opening Address to the Second Vatican Council: 'We feel we must disagree with these prophets of gloom.'
But neither was John XXIII perfect: a few point to his pontificate as the beginning of 'drift' in the church, and to his Council as ultimately one that tilted too much towards the modern world.
The joint announcement by Pope Francis may strike some as simply a canny 'move' on his part. The two popes are seen to appeal to different types of Catholics, and so this announcement will serve to unite these groups.
For me, I deeply admire John Paul II, but John XXIII is a great hero. For some friends of mine, that statement would be reversed. But all, I hope can rejoice today...
FULL STORY: http://americamagazine.org/node/155874 (America magazine)
Image: America magazine