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Catholic Church canonizes two Popes

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Sunday, April 27, 2014, news.va, the Official Vatican Network, announced the canonization of two Pope Saints, John XXIII and John Paul II. Pope John convened the second Vatican council, known as Vatican II, which modernized and opened the church to the world. Pope John Paul’s charisma and battles against communism made him one of the most beloved Popes of all time.

A huge crowd overflowed St. Peter's Square for this historic canonization. This was the first time two Pope’s were canonized together. The crowd was able to witness two living Pope’s at the same time as well. Pope Francis presided over the mass and Pope Emeritus Benedict was in attendance.

Pope John XXIII's papacy ran from 1958 to 1963. Pope John Paul II's 26-year papacy ended when he died in 2005. His numerous trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history. Both men changed the course of the Catholic Church.

Catholics believe a Saint is a person who lived a holy life, has passed on, and is already in heaven. Saints are considered spiritual role models for those still living, and they act when a request for help is made to them through prayer.

Becoming a Saint is a democratic process that begins with a conviction that the given person lived a holy life. After that there are three stages. In step one Church officials study the person’s life. Step two requires there must be one miracle after the candidate’s death. This is required for beatification. A second miracle is needed for canonization. Typically the miracles are healings and they must be instantaneous, permanent, and complete, besides being scientifically inexplicable. Catholics see the miracles as God’s way of verifying that the saint really is in heaven and worthy of Sainthood.

Pope John Paul’s beatification has been the quickest in modern times. This was possible because Pope Benedict XVI waived the normal five-year waiting period after a death before beatification may begin. Pope Benedict responded to the crowds at Pope John Paul’s funeral Mass chanting “Santo Subito!” which means “Sainthood Now!” and to a petition signed by the cardinals who elected Benedict.

Pope John XXIII was not just holy, he was also a very funny man. A reporter once asked him how many people work at the Vatican. His answer, "About half." John has been credited with just one miracle, the healing of an Italian nun in 1966. Pope Francis waived the requirement for a second miracle. Some are saying Francis should have waited for the second miracle before canonizing John XXIII. He stuck to his right of papal prerogative. Pope John XXIII, also known as "Good Pope John," had a relatively short but influential papacy. During the 1960s he convened the Second Vatican Council.

Changes made by this council allowed modern music and local languages to replace the Gregorian chants and Latin prayers in churches. Catholics were encouraged to take leadership roles in their churches. The Catholic Church’s relationship with Jewish and Protestant communities improved greatly after these liturgical and doctrinal changes were made as well.

Pope John Paul II began life as Karol Józef Wojtyła. The third child to a captain in the Polish Army, he was also an actor, an athlete, a philosopher and a theologian. Eventually he became a bishop, cardinal and went on to become the first non-Italian Pope in centuries. As Pope he was called “John Paul The Great”. He traveled to 129 countries to meet and speak to the faithful. Serving five times longer than Pope John, he changed the world with his courage, standing with the workers of Solidarity and the Polish people against Communist repression. This nonviolent resistance marked the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.

Unfortunately John Paul II’s legacy was scarred by his inaction with the clerical sexual abuse crisis. The voices of sex abuse victims and women were not always heard by Pope John Paul. Many of these faithful felt abandoned by the 26 year reign of the Pontiff. Some have said Pope John Paul’s neglect of the sex abuse crisis means he should not be made a Saint.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C. had this to say on the matter, “Sainthood does not mean perfection. It is a declaration that the person is a virtuous and holy person.” He discounts accusations by some questioning whether the church is moving too fast. Cardinal Wuerl concelebrated Mass with Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City when Pope John XXIII and John Paul II were named new saints of the Catholic Church. His reflections on these two men can be found here.

Sunday’s event was attended by delegations from over a hundred countries. Twenty Heads of state including the King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium, Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, the ex-president of the Republic of Poland Lech Walesa, the president of the Argentine parliament Julian Dominguez and the presidents of the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy, and the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroson were on hand. The canonization was also attended by Floribeth Mora Diaz and Sister Adele Labianca, the two women who experienced the miracles attributed to John Paul II.

Under intermittent rain Pope Francis to inscribed the names of the two Popes in the Book of Saints pronouncing the formula for canonization, “For the honor of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother Bishops, 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. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”.

Afterwards there was a presentation to the Pope of relics from the two saints, which had been on display on the altar during the ceremony. One was a phial of the blood of John Paul II and the other was a piece of skin removed from the body of John XXIII when it was exhumed for his beatification in September 2000.

Pope Francis spoke of his predecessors, “They were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.

“In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy. The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.”

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