Double canonization features double themes: Second Vatican Council and the family . . .
When the Vatican announced last fall that Pope John Paul II would be raised to the honors of the altar on Mercy Sunday 2014, no one was surprised. In fact, shortly after his death on the eve of Mercy Sunday 2005, the faithful insisted on his canonization.
Italians held signs aloft at his funeral that read “Santo Subito!” or “Sainthood Now!” Nine years later, their demands were met with nearly a million people on hand to witness the largest gathering at the Vatican in history.
Between 800,000 and 1 million people jammed St. Peter’s Square on April 27 spilling out down the Via della Conciliazione all the way to the Tiber River and dozens of squares in Rome, most watching on big screens set up for the canonization of two popes: John Paul and John XXIII.
Witness to history
Dozens of Legatus members were among the pilgrims witnessing history. Not only was it historic in terms of size, but it was the first time the Church has canonized two popes at once — and it was the first canonization with two popes present at the altar, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI concelebrated the Mass with his successor Pope Francis.
Donald and Michele D’Amour, members of Legatus’ Western Massachusetts Chapter, were in St. Peter’s Square, halfway between the altar and the obelisk.
“It was a powerful and humbling moment for me,” Michele said. “It was humbling to be among all the pilgrims, stretching for miles beyond the Vatican, which really was symbolic of the solidarity in Christ that we have in the universal Church.”
“These newly canonized popes,” Don added, “were great leaders who had the courage to be faithful and make things happen for the good of the Church and the world. In the presence of four popes, you felt the continuity, how they helped each other bring renewal to the Church and bring the gospel to the world. It was inspiring and gave a lot of food for thought.”
Brian and Bernice Follett, members of Legatus’ new chapter in Austin, Texas, watched the canonization ceremony from the roof of a convent adjacent to St. Peter’s Square. The couple attended John Paul’s beatification in 2011, but had a much better view this time around.
“It was a phenomenal experience to have two popes canonized at once and to see Pope Francis and Pope Benedict together,” Brian said. “I remember John Paul’s 1987 visit to Phoenix where I lived after college. I wasn’t practicing my faith much, but I listened to him on the radio. He has meant a lot to me over the years, so this canonization was very special.”
Scott and Lannette Turicchi of Legatus’ Hollywood Chapter brought their three daughters along for the canonization, having a prime spot on the convent roof with the Folletts.
“It was one of those moments in time that you just can’t really describe but you’ll never forget,” said Lannette, who recently wrapped production on her John Paul documentary, The Prophet of Our Time. “For seven years my children watched me make a movie about this pope, so to share the moment with them was very special. They knew they were witnessing something that would never happen again in their lifetime.”
Pope of the family
In his homily at the canonization Mass, Pope Francis declared John Paul II the “pope of the family” to great applause from the massive congregation. The Holy Father prayed for the new saint’s intercession as the Church prepares for the Synod on the Family in October, saying that “from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains us.”
Speaker and author Jason Evert, who also attended the canonization, told Legatus magazine that John Paul said, in a private conversation many years ago, that if he was remembered by history, he would like to be known as the “pope of the family.”
“When he was called the pope of the family, that was my favorite moment of the whole canonization,” Evert said. “I was thrilled that Pope Francis alluded to that passing conversation that John Paul had. It was how he wanted to be remembered.
“I think it ties in very well with the upcoming synod,” he said, “because John Paul’s writings — in particular the Theology of the Body and his appreciation of human love and his love for families — is really going to play a key role in the synod. The truth is that as the family goes, so goes the whole world.”
Author and theologian Ralph Martin agrees.
“John Paul II actually spent a lot of time with families,” said Martin, a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization and member of Legatus’ Ann Arbor Chapter.
“He went on camping trips with young couples and young people, and he encouraged them in the vocation of marriage and family,” Martin said. “He not only taught about it in his post-synodal exhortation Familiaris Consortio (1981), but he modeled it in almost unforgettable images of him loving people, hanging out with lay people, sharing the life of the people.
“Long before Pope Francis ever said, ‘You’ve got to have the smell of the sheep on you,’ John Paul had the smell of the sheep on him,” Martin explained. “He really modeled that in a wonderful way.”
Bookends of Vatican II
The canonization also highlighted the fact that John XXIII, led by the Holy Spirit, called the Second Vatican Council while John Paul II, himself a father of the Council, spent his pontificate explaining and implementing its teachings.
Pope Francis noted in his homily that both new pope saints “lived through the tragic events of the century but were not overwhelmed by them. These were two men of courage, filled with … the Holy Spirit. In [them] there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable joy.”
Evert pointed out that John Paul II — like the first Pope John Paul — took his name from John XXIII and Paul VI, both fathers of the Council.
“These two new saints were bookends of the Second Vatican Council,” he said. “John Paul saw his name as integral to his pontificate, implementing the Council’s directives. Key to that are religious freedom, the role of the Church in the modern world, calling the laity to take part in the New Evangelization, and building a culture of life and civilization of love.”
The confusion that occurred after the Council wasn’t the intended result, Martin observed. “But John Paul got the whole thing back on track and was able to interpret the Council for us. Through his very long pontificate, he was able, issue by issue, to clarify carefully the Council’s teaching and really put us on a solid foundation for its implementation in the future.
“He called the synod of 1985 that was so important in laying down guidelines for how to properly interpret the Council,” he said. “He made a major contribution to safeguarding the fruits of the Council for the Church.”
Lannette Turicchi of Legatus’ Hollywood Chapter expressed hope that the two new saints of Vatican II would inspire the faithful in the years to come.
“I hope it’s a new springtime for the Church,” she said. “Our Church is what we make of it. If we allow apathy, we’ll get apathy. If we promote love, we’ll get love. Whatever our actions are, that’s what’s going to prevail.”
PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.