Pope Francis hailed Saints John XXIII and John Paul II as “men of courage” and great faith, who listened to the Spirit of God, and “bore witness to God’s goodness and mercy” before the Church and the world
Saints John XXIII and John Paul II “were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia (audacity) of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy”, Pope Francis told a crowd of one million in St Peter’s Square and the surrounding areas on April 27 after canonizing these two great leaders of the Catholic Church in the past century.
“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” because for them “for them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history”, he said.
“Saints John XXIII and John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother (cf. Is 58:7), because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles.”, he said referring to the great faith and extraordinary humanity of both men.
“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 (1 Pet 1:3,8).”, he said. Indeed, he told those at the ceremony and the hundreds of millions who followed it by TV, radio and the modern means of communication that “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” that they “merit our eternal gratitude.”
In their lifetime, he recalled, “Saints John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries.” And he reminded everyone that “it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church.”
In convening the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), he said, “John XXIII 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 said, adding that for this reason “I like to think of him as the pope of openness to the Spirit”.
Likewise, he said, John Paul II “in his own service to the People of God…was the pope of the family.” He recalled that the new Polish saint “once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family” and, Francis added, “I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.”. The crowd broke into warm applause, endorsing what Francis had said.
When Pope Francis concluded his masterly homily on the life and work of his predecessors, the enormous crowd again broke into applause filled with joy and happiness.
Never before in the history of the Church have two popes been declared saints on the same day, but that is what happened today, Sunday April 27,when Pope Francis canonized them before an estimatefd of one million people in the Square and neighboring areas, and a global audience of hundreds of millions of all faiths and none.
Never before in the history of the Church has an emeritus pope assisted at the canonisation of his predecesor but that is what happened today too when Benedict XVI participated in the canonization ceremony. Pope Francis went to greet him warmly at the end of mass.
The rite of canonisation took place at the beginning of the mass, when Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for Saints, speaking in Latin, asked Pope Francis “to enroll Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II among the Saints, that they may be invoked as such by all the Christian faithful”.
The Sistine choir then led the faithful in the singing of the hymn to the Holy Spirit (“Veni Creator”). When they finished, Pope Francis read the formula of canonisation in which he said that ”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”.
Even before he had finished the declaration the vast crowd in the square and side streets broke into resounding and prolonged applause. They continued as the Sistine choir began signing the hymn of joy, “”Jubilate Deo” –“Shout to the Lord, sing to the Lord”.
This was the great moment that the one million pilgrims and devotees who had come here from all continents had long waited for. Some 400,000 had arrived from Poland and other countries, including the USA, to see the greatest Pole in history receive the highest honor of the Catholic Church; they came by chárter planes, trains, coaches and private cars for the event. Throughout his almost 27 year pontificate they flocked to his ceremonies in Rome and to the 129 countries that he visited, and now on this great day they came again, also from Wadowice - the little town where he was born, to express their immense joy at his being declared a saint.
Hundreds of thousands of Italians came for the event too. They came to participate in the canonisation of John XXIII, the pope who had the courage to convene the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) that changed the face of the Catholic Church in its relation to the modern world and to the other world religions, even though many of them were not alive when the man they called “the good pope” died on 3 June 1963. But they also applauded John Paul II whom they admired and loved.
Members of Royal families, as well as Heads of State and Government from 126 countries attended the colorful ceremony in St Peter’s Square, including the President of Italy and the present and past Presidents of Poland. Pope Francis greeted them individually at the end of mass, before driving among the enthusiastic but infinitely grateful crowd who waved the flags of their native lands, showing their immense joy at being here on this historic day which is a day without precedent in the 2000 year history of the Church, and which will henceforth be remembered as “the day of the four popes”.