Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Wrapping Up Decades of Change, Francis Saints Two Popes

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Wrapping Up Decades of Change, Francis Saints Two Popes

Article excerpt

VATICAN CITY * And just like that, 55 years of church history - from the unexpected calling of the Second Vatican Council through the sometimes tumultuous and radical response, to its modernizing moves for Catholics around the world - were wrapped up in about six minutes.

That's how long it took on April 27 for Pope Francis to declare his predecessors John XXIII and John Paul II saints of the Catholic church, from the first prayers of the canonization rite to the formal decree.

That decree, made in Latin by Francis in front of an estimated 500,000 people in a cloudy and drizzly St. Peter's Square, was simple and direct. Having "sought the counsel of many of our brother bishops," he said, "we declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints and we enroll them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church."

But the implications of the saint-ings of John, who led the church from 1958 to 1963, and John Paul, who led it from 1978 to 2005, are not so clear.

The Vatican had sought that week to tie the popes together by their work shepherding the church through the 20th century - framing them as two bookends of church modernization and reform. However, Catholics in many parts of the world see John as the man who started that reform, but John Paul as the one who harnessed or even rolled parts of it back.

That dual dynamic was echoed April 27 by the presence at the canonization ceremony of two popes - Francis, who led the event, and his immediate predecessor, retired Pope Benedict XVI, who concelebrated with Francis at Mass along with some 150 cardinals, 700 bishops, and 6,000 priests.

For his part, Francis said during his homily that John and John Paul had "cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the church" during and following Vatican II. The 196265 council drew bishops around the world to the Vatican and led to reforms like the use of vernacular languages during liturgies and the redefinition of the church as the "people of God."

In convening the council, Francis said, John "showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the church a pastor, a servant-leader. This was his great service to the church; he was the pope of openness to the Spirit."

Francis continued, "In his own service to the people of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family"

Francis mentioned that he has called a worldwide Synod of Bishops at the Vatican for this October on the subject of the family, and said he was "particularly happy" to point out John Paul's dedication to family issues.

"It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains," Francis said.

May these two new saints and shepherds of God's people intercede for the church, so that during this two-year journey toward the synod, she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family" the pope concluded.

The Vatican worked throughout the week to defend John Paul's record responding to the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

Former Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said April 25 that while John Paul did not understand at first the gravity of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, he began responding "immediately" following the reports from Boston in 2002. Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle, a longtime advocate for abuse survivors, fiercely disputed those claims in an online NCR column. (See sidebar.)

Jesuit Fr. Gerald O'Collins, an Australian academic who in 2008 published The Legacy of John Paul II, said in an email earlier in the week that John Paul "was saintly and heroic or saintly heroic, but not perfect."

O'Collins, a research professor at the Jesuit Theological College in Parkville, near Melbourne, said, "He made me realize the difference between being saintly and being perfect."

Despite questions about John Paul's handling of the crisis, and Francis' agenda in canonizing the two late popes together, pilgrims who came from around the world for the Vatican ceremony said they wished to honor the legacies of both John and John Paul. …

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