Faithful Prepare to Celebrate Canonization of 2 Beloved Popes


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Rome is “ready, very ready” for the canonization of former Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, the Eternal City’s mayor, Ignazio Marino said this week.

9cf62673-fc83-4171-9c6e-780420595cadBut in truth no one really knows how Rome will cope with what some predict will be the largest crowds the city has ever seen.

The interior ministry expects the April 27 double canonization, presided by Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square, to draw 800,000 pilgrims from all over the world, but others predict far higher numbers, possibly as many as 7 million.

An enormous contingent of pilgrims from John Paul II’s native Poland is expected, as well as significant numbers from the Lombardy region of northern Italy, the birthplace of John XXIII.

The Vatican says 19 heads of State will be attending as well as 24 prime ministers from 61 official delegations, representing 54 countries. Tickets are not required but seats will be difficult or near impossible to find and many are expected to camp out overnight to obtain the best places.

City authorities are visibly in full swing, already cordoning off major streets such as the Fori Imperiali that leads up to the Colosseum, repainting road markings and erecting 14 large screens in key areas all across the city.

Traffic is also starting to build, clogging key roads in the city, while Rome’s many hotels prepare for one of their best business weekends in years. Most rooms are sold out, and at least one hotel near the Vatican is charging as much as 700 Euros a night.

But despite the logistical challenges, Rome is well practiced in hosting such enormous events and tends to manage them well. Thousands of volunteers will join the protezione civile – Italy’s main body dealing with the management of exceptional events.

Security will also be tight: Italy’s interior minister has said 2,430 police units will be assigned to carry out checks and patrol sensitive targets.

Festive occasion

Canonizations for the Catholic Church are always great festive occasions and the fact that so many have memories of both popes, particularly of John Paul II, makes this event especially unique. Countless interviews have been released in recent weeks with close friends and associates of the two popes, each offering testimony to their personal holiness.

“Good Pope John,” as he became known, is best remembered for convening the Second Vatican Council that opened the Catholic Church up to the world to better engage with it. He is also praised for his landmark encyclical, Pacem in Terris, which laid out the Church’s vision for world peace in the nuclear age.

“Every chapter of the encyclical starts with a statement dealing with an aspiration of men … to peace, to freedom, to dignity,” said Cardinal Paul Poupard who worked in the Vatican Secretariat of State during Pope John’s papacy, in an interview this week.

John XXIII was a man of simple holiness who strove to bring peace and unity to the Church and to the world, but he was not a simple man.

“He has certainly been a complex figure, much more complex than the cliché of the “good pope”,” said Marco Roncalli, his great-nephew. “His path in life was complex, rich and spiritual, like the example he gave through his Christian virtues, delineated in the history of mankind.”

Reasons for John Paul II’s canonization are better known.

The Polish Pope, who many credit for helping to end Soviet communism, was a man of deep prayer and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Examples of his holiness and concern for others are many, and people were so convinced of his personal sanctity that they chanted “Santo Subito!” – “Saint Now!” – at his funeral.

Two miracles have been attributed to his intercession: a French nun cured of Parkinson’s disease soon after his death, and a Costa Rican woman who was healed of a brain aneurysm.

And yet despite the great adulation for these two Successors of St. Peter, not everyone is happy. Although it’s normal for two or more candidates to be canonized on the same day, many Poles would have preferred a separate canonization for John Paul, believing he deserves such singular attention.

Fans of John XXIII, meanwhile, lament that he’s often playing second fiddle to his better known and arguably more popular successor.

The double canonization has led to organizational headaches for the Vatican and few events are planned around the ceremony. But more significantly, there are those who have strong reservations about the Second Vatican Council, saying it was an imprudent move given the state of the world at the time, the misinterpretations of the Council teachings, and the precipitous fall in Church attendance, vocations, and a general weakening of ecclesial authority that followed.

John convened the Council; John Paul was its leading proponent, and many have noted the speed at which they will be made saints – a process that can often take centuries.

Furthermore, the fact that Pope Francis waived the need for a second miracle for John XXIII has led some critics to accuse the Vatican of simply wishing to “canonize the Council.”

But the majority of Catholics see this event differently. To them, it’s a means of holding up to the world the lives of two men whose outstanding personal holiness and close relationship with God shine like a beacon in a world where a “culture of death” – a term coined by John Paul II – has taken hold.

The light and example of these popes is sorely needed, they argue, in an age when Christ is being increasingly rejected or ignored and secularism is on the rise.
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Marco Roncalli on His Great-Uncle, Blessed John XXIII


Marco Roncalli is the great-nephew of soon-to-be-canonized Blessed Pope John XXIII, Angelo Roncalli.

He is also the author of Giovanni XXIII — Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli: Una Vita Nella Storia (John XXIII — Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli: A Life in History) and the editor of correspondence from 1933-1962 between John XXIII, Loris Francesco Capovilla, John XXXIII’s secretary, and Giuseppe De Luca, a close friend of the Pope.

Roncalli shared his views on the life and personality of John XXIII in this email interview with the Register, given in October. He has a new book on his great-uncle coming out next year in time for the April 27 canonization.

(An edited version of this interview appeared in the National Catholic Register, 8 Nov. 2013)


What was Angelo Roncalli really like? Was he a simple country priest or someone more complex ?

He has certainly been a complex figure, much more complex than the cliché of the “good pope”. His path in life was complex, rich and spiritual, like the example he gave through his Christian virtues, delineated in the history of mankind. His complexity was also reflected throughout his life because he was able to talk face to face with God in prayer but also to find Him in the work and affairs of mankind. And that complexity also derived from positive influences on him from important figures: I think of the ten years when he was secretary to a great bishop: Giacomo Maria Radini Tedeschi, as well as complex situations he experienced in Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, and France. Despite this, the complexity never undermined his genuine, authentic simplicity – that he was cloaked in humility, as one reads in his autobiography, “Journal of a Soul”, his spiritual notebook, and as he expressed in so many words, gestures and actions that shine like stars in his life.

How was his decision to call the Second Vatican Council consistent with his character ?

John XXIII knew the history of the Church. He had studied the Apostolic Visit of St. Charles [Borromeo] to Bergamo [in 1575], knew the synodal instruments and, during his time in the East, he became familiar with the history of the ecumenical councils, the first eight in particular – the five Lateran Councils and Trent. He knew above all that a council was the instrument for solving problems of which he was aware, as priest and pastor. This was emphasized by the pastoral intention of the council, delineated by three aspects: the opening of the Church to the modern world, the reconstruction of unity among Christians, and the theme of justice and peace. But the seeds of the council were inside him. His wish for a council was a personal decision, expressed immediately after the election his personal secretary, Monsignor Loris Capovilla, recalled the Pope had told him of the idea. “The first time was on October 30, 1958, forty-eight hours after his election.” It’s true that the idea had already been discussed among other churchmen, cardinals, and even popes. But the intention of Pope John was for another council. He wanted to rejuvenate the Church (to him, she was “not a museum but always a garden”), to be able to respond to the questions piling up on his desk, to start the restoration of Christian unity, to give voice to the universality of the Church, to shore up the exercise of episcopal collegiality, to discern the “signs of the times”. He didn’t have to invent anything revolutionary. As a student of history, he knew that the most suitable instrument is always present in the dynamics of the history of the Church.

Some have said that he had a low regard Pope St. Pius X, and alluded to this in an interview with Corriere della Sera in 1959, the first papal interview in a secular newspaper. How true is this ?

Pius X was the pope who had blessed him immediately after his ordination. Then, when Roncalli was Patriarch of Venice, he showed great affection to his predecessor [Pius X, formerly Giuseppe Sarto, was Patriarch of Venice 1893-1903]. He fought for his remains to be returned and put on display for the faithful on a pilgrimage. Some truth relates to the suffering placed on “his” bishop, Radini Tedeschi, during the pontificate of Giuseppe Sarto and in relation to the trend of modernism [Pius X demoted Radini Tedeschi to the diocese of Bergamo as he disagreed with his modernist tendencies; Roncalli later became Radini Tedeschi’s private secretary]. But one should immediately say clearly here that Roncalli went through the storm of modernism by developing a response that was faithful to the Church, different from his seminary companion and the then-standard-bearer of modernism, Ernesto Buonaiuti. In any case, I don’t recall almost anything to say that Angelo Roncalli was fascinated by [the] dialectic between scientific research and the choice of faith. For example, he studied and read the writings of Bishops John Ireland [Irish-America known for his progressive stance on education, immigration and relations between church and state, his opposition to political corruption, and as a promoter of the Americanization of Catholicism], John Spalding [American author, poet, co-founder of the Catholic University of America], Cardinal James Gibbons [one of the first American cardinals, he advocated protection of labor and played a key role in the granting of Papal permission for Catholics to join labor unions].

What are the key characteristics of Pope Francis that link him to Pope John XXIII?

I was in St. Peter’s Square when Jorge Bergoglio came out for the first time onto the loggia after the white smoke. And, after his unique blessing addressed to “all men and women of good will” , I immediately had the feeling that in his actions and in his words there was something to evoke the figure of John XXIII. After that first assurance that evening, in the embrace of the Colonnade, other comparisons would follow, always in greater numbers, including the pronunciations of distinguished cardinals that came thick and fast. There was Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of CEI [Italian bishops conference], who said he saw in Francis the “style , simplicity , goodness, but also the ability to govern of John XXIII.” There was African Cardinal Robert Sarah, president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum: “Pope Francis is a good figure like Pope Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli.” There was Cardinal Joseph Zen of China and Hong Kong who said that “when people know Francis they will love him as they loved John XXIII.” Other cardinals have also agreed on the comparison such as the former secretary of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. And speaking of secretaries of popes, the key test came from Archbishop Capovilla: he has already been reported as saying several times that Francis reminds him a lot – even in his physical traits – of “his” John XXIII, who, almost at the same moment of the election, also took the key word “mercy” as his point of departure and immediately called his Petrine ministry a ‘service’ – the two emerging leitmotifs.

What are your views on John XXIII’s canonization? What examples or anecdotes best demonstrate his holiness?

Pope Francis, in his words and deeds, has so far revealed the most creative “reception” of the Council and not by chance “pro gratia ” did he make further investigation [into miracles] unnecessary, further unlocking a process that Wojtyla had already unlocked with [John XXIII’s] beatification. For millions of people the is “good news” , but for those who were close to Angelo Roncalli, or have known the family well, it was “confirmation” of what was seen over time: an everyday holiness lived in normality. If you reread a synthesis of the life of John XXIII, as you will see in my upcoming book that will be published in Italy next year by Edizioni San Paolo, one uncovers not only his experience of holiness, but also the universal virtues that he delineated. Throughout his whole life Roncalli tried to become a saint, the leitmotif he constantly returns to in his writings. Year after year, he discovers what matters is the substance needed to become a saint; it’s not about mimicking other figures, but achieving a degree that is possible for him. Also as Pope, he once wrote: “Since everyone calls me Holy Father, as if this was my first title, well, then I must and I want to be him for real.” I also believe that his was primarily a “public holiness”,  taking time to help make clear to people the real value of life, and what is conducive to their salvation. And this can also be seen in that the recognition bestowed on him by Pope Francis which serves not him [John XXIII], but is inviting us to follow “a shining light for the journey ahead of us”, to live with the goal of reachable holiness, also aware of another thing: that if the virtues are human exercises, the shaping of holiness, including that of Pope John, must be left to God.

It’s Official: John Paul II and John XXIII to Be Canonized


VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has confirmed that both Blessed Pope John Paul II and Blessed John XXIII will be canonized and possibly at the same time, although a date has yet to be set for the canonizations.

Reading from a statement, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters today that Pope Francis had approved a decree on a miracle attributed to John Paul II’s intercession.

He also said the Holy Father had approved a “favorable vote,” taken by a commission of cardinals and bishops, “on the canonization of Blessed Pope John XXIII.”

The commission has decided to “convoke a consistory” so that both canonizations can take place at the same time, but it’s not clear exactly when, as Pope Francis wants to hear the opinions of cardinals first.

“No date has been set,” Father Lombardi said, “but it is very likely that there will be one canonization ceremony before the end of the year.”

Father Lombardi said that in the case of John XXIII, Pope Francis has agreed to skip the usual second miracle required for canonization as a second miracle attributed to his intercession has not been forthcoming. Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (1904-1963) was elected Pope John XXIII in 1958.

The announcement of the papal canonizations was just part of a long list of decrees issued today for sainthood causes.

Among them was a decree approving a miracle needed for the beatification of Father Alvaro del Portillo y Diez de Sollano (1914-1994) who succeeded St. Josemaria Escriva as bishop and prelate of Opus Dei.


Second JPII Miracle

Concerning the miracle attributed to John Paul II’s intercession, the Vatican has yet to release details, but it is understood to concern the healing of a severely ill woman from Costa Rica.

Spanish newspaper La Razon has identified her as Floribeth Mora, a 50-year-old law student. She suffered from a cerebral aneurism that was inexplicably cured on May 1, 2011 — the very day of John Paul’s beatification. Her family prayed for her at the time and she had been given only a month to live.

Her doctor, Dr. Alejandro Vargas, told La Razon that the disappearance of the aneurism “surprised me a lot” and that he couldn’t explain it “based on science.” Some reports say the exact details of the miracle will “amaze the world” and are to be revealed later today by Costa Rican doctors.

News of the miracle has already spread to Floribeth’s hometown of La Union, attracting a large number of visitors from all over Costa Rica. So many have been arriving, La Razon reports, that Floribeth left the town to seek refuge at her mother’s house in San Jose.

On July 1, 2011, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul II’s former private secretary, sent a relic of John Paul II to Costa Rica. Floribeth was able to see the relic and thank John Paul II, two months after her miraculous cure.

A neighbor told the Spanish-language daily: “The whole neighborhood is very happy because we always believed in John Paul II, you can see the nobility in his face.”

The first miracle attributed to John Paul II’s intercession and which led to his beatification in 2011 concerned Sister Marie Simon Pierre, whose recovery from Parkinson’s disease could not be explained by a Vatican panel of medical experts.


‘Santo Subito!’

John Paul II’s beatification occurred after Benedict XVI dispensed with the traditional five-year waiting period, permitting the beatification process to begin weeks after his April 2, 2005, death.

The decision was taken after chants of “Santo Subito!” (“Sainthood Now”), which erupted during John Paul’s funeral.

Writing in the July 6 edition of L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Dziwisz said he spent “almost 40 years next to a saint, working by his side in Krakow and the Vatican.”

“[People] asked me a few times when would John Paul II become a saint,” he said. “I think he has been one since his youth. Karol Wojtyla was a normal guy, sharp and sensitive, full of energy and zest for life. But from the beginning, in him was something ‘more.’”

Paying tribute to his holiness, the Polish cardinal reflected on how difficult it was at John Paul II’s funeral for him to cover the former Pope’s face with a cloth — a face that was “so close, so friendly, so human.”

“Today,” he said, “I am delighted by the fact that from now on, the whole Church will establish the face of a new saint, St. John Paul II.”

In an interview in the same issue, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said both John Paul II and John XXIII were “united by the same pastoral concern for the Church.”

Both popes, he said, “have two common points of reference: the Council as a Gospel event of love and peace, and the Church as a generous and thoughtful mother, who is close to every human being, and gives comfort, help, support and hope.”

But some, including a few Vatican officials, are concerned that the Vatican is being too hasty with John Paul II’s canonization, coming less than a decade after his death. An unnamed Vatican official criticized the poor governance that took place under John Paul II, and especially during his final years, while other critics point to many deep-seated problems including clerical sex abuse scandals took place during his pontificate.


Careful Canonical Process

Cardinal Amato, however, stressed that “all the canonical procedures desired by John Paul II during his pontificate have been followed carefully, without haste and superficiality.” He also recalled St. Anthony of Padua was canonized by Gregory IX on May 30, 1232, less than a year after his death, which took place on June 13, 1231.

Also writing in the Vatican paper was Msgr. Loris Capovilla, John XXIII’s former private secretary, who paid tribute to his former superior as a man whose philosophy was one of “simplicity and prudence.”

“It is difficult for me to express in words the tumult of feelings in me caused by this splendid decision of Pope Francis to join the canonization of two popes whose holiness I have personally experienced,” he said.

He recalled anecdotally praying with John Paul II soon after his election, and sharing with the Pope his moments of suffering, also alongside John XXIII.

John Paul II replied to Msgr. Capovilla, “We all have to suffer. And Pope John, being a prophet, had to suffer for his faith in Christ. But sooner or later, they’ll realize it: He was a saint.”

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

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John XXIII Stressed Obedience as the Path to Peace, Pope Francis Says



VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said peace was the outward hallmark of Blessed Pope John XXIII, whose death 50 years ago this month provoked an outpouring of tributes from leading Catholic figures.

Others remembered him as a man of prayer, a great historian and a pope with the common touch who liked to be with people.

The Holy Father commemorated the golden anniversary with a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica June 3, during which he called on the faithful to imitate Blessed Pope John by growing in obedience to God and self-mastery to achieve peace.

“If peace was the outward hallmark [of Pope John], obedience constituted his inner disposition,” he told pilgrims from  the Diocese of Bergamo in northern Italy, where Pope John XXIII was born and given the name Angelo Roncalli.

“Obedience, in fact, was the instrument with which to achieve peace,” he added, explaining how he accomplished it through “long and challenging work on himself” as he pursued a path of “gradual purification of the heart.”

“We see him, day by day, careful to recognize and mortify the desires that come from his own selfishness, careful to discern the inspirations of the Lord,” he said.

Francis stressed that John XXIII’s obedience led him to live “a more profound faithfulness, which could be called, as he would say, abandonment to divine Providence.”

Peace was his most “obvious aspect,” he said, adding that John XXIII was “a man who was able to communicate peace, a natural, serene, friendly peace.”

It was a peace, he noted, that, with his election to the pontificate at the age of 76, was manifested to all the world and came to be called “his goodness.” Such a characteristic was “undoubtedly a hallmark of his personality, which enabled him to build strong friendships everywhere.”

Francis also remembered him as “an effective weaver of relationships and a good promoter of unity, inside and outside the Church community, open to dialogue with Christians of other churches, with members of the Jewish and Muslim traditions.”

Pope Francis also observed how John XXIII’s writings show “a soul taking shape, under the action of the Holy Spirit working in his Church,” that became a “prophetic intuition” when he convoked the Second Vatican Council.

Others also recalled his close relationship with the Holy Spirit and deep prayer life.

Jesuit Father Norman Tanner, professor of Church history at the Pontifical Gregorian University, said he was a “man of prayer,” and his “sensitivity to the movements of the Holy Spirit” led him to call Vatican II.

Father Tanner also noted two other outstanding personality traits of Pope John: “He was a great historian; he had a historical sense,” he told the Register. “He was also good with people — he liked people.”


Papal Similarities

Some observers, meanwhile, have compared Pope Francis to John XXIII. Msgr. Loris Capovilla, who served as John XXIII’s private secretary for 10 years, said the two popes possess a goodness and mercy towards ordinary people.

The 96-year-old priest remembered the “unforgettable serenity” of John XXIII and the simplicity with which he related to others.

“It happens, too, with Pope Francis,” he said in a June 4 interview with La Stampa. “When he enters St. Peter’s Square, he gives the impression he would like to shake the hands of everyone. [This] is the humanity of God.”

Remembering that, when he was elected, someone described John XXIII as a “pope of flesh,” Msgr. Capovilla said, “This is not a trivial thing, because God became flesh, and now Pope Francis is eloquently showing the same.”

Others have also made similar comparisons.

Soon after Francis was elected, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian bishops’ conference, said he recognized the same “style, simplicity and goodness” that others saw in “Good Pope John.”

Father Tanner said there are “certainly similarities,” especially in terms of the warmth of his personality. “John was an extremely shrewd and learned man,” he said. “One should never portray him as a simple person, in terms of being naive; he was a genuinely learned person who at the same time combined it with a personal touch.”

Father Tanner, author of Vatican II: The Essential Texts, said he believed John XXIII would have been “very pleased” with the Year of Faith initiatives and the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization — both timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Council.

“It’s interesting that a lot of these conferences [held this year] are being organized by people who weren’t alive at the time, and yet it [the Council] has had a lasting interest,” he said.

In his homily June 3, Pope Francis called on the faithful to “keep [John XXIII’s] spirit, continue to deepen the study of his life and his writings, but above all imitate his holiness.”


Deathbed Recollections

Meanwhile, in another interview with La Stampa June 3, Don Battista Roncalli, John XXIII’s nephew, recounted the last moments of his uncle. Among those present at his bedside were his nieces, Sisters Angela and Anna, as well as Msgr. Capovilla, Don Battista and his brother Zaverio.

The Pope no longer recognized them; he was running a high fever. But although he was already fading, he showed signs of life as Mass began in St. Peter’s Square.

“He asked painfully for something, a favor, help,” Don Battista recalled. Eloquently, he said, he asked Zaverio to move aside because he was blocking the view of an ivory crucifix. John XXIII had placed it there since his election, in a special location, so he could see it at every moment of the day.

Zaverio understood the Pope’s last wish right away and perceived on the face of his uncle a last smile as his eyes remained fixed on the crucifix.

John XXIII died at 7:49pm on June 3, 1963, as the sun was setting. The bells of the basilica began to peal, Don Battista remembered, and those gathered around his bedside began to mourn.

The Pope of peace had returned to his Father.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.

11 June 2013, National Catholic Register

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