The April 27 canonizations of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II were a historic chapter in the church’s life. Never have two popes who lived at the same time been declared saints on the same day. With nearly 1 million people from around the world traveling to the Vatican for the canonization ceremony, it turned out to be a celebration reflecting the church’s universal nature.
Last year, when Pope Francis announced that he would canonize the two 20th-century popes because of their heroic virtues, some people questioned whether enough time had passed to elevate them to sainthood. When Pope Benedict opened the sainthood cause for his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, soon after his death, he waived the usual five-year waiting period. Pope Francis also waived a second required miracle for St. John.
The canonization process has undergone some changes in recent years and it will continue to do so. While he was alive, St. John Paul, who canonized a record number of saints, wanted to see the process streamlined to allow more lay people, especially couples, as candidates for sainthood. Last January, the Vatican announced plans to contain fees necessary to move forward a person’s sainthood cause, opening up the process to more people.
The church’s newest saints, despite questions about requirements and waiting periods, are indeed worthy of sainthood because of their exemplary, extraordinary lives, says Fr. Robert Barron.
“To be a saint is to be a person of heroic virtue,” said the Chicago priest who is rector of the Chicago Archdiocese’s Mundelein Seminary and founder of the online initiative Word On Fire Catholic Ministries.
“You’re looking at the cardinal virtues of justice and prudence and temperance and courage. The theological virtues of faith, hope and love. The church says these men exemplify those virtues in a heroic way.”
Bishop David Ricken noted that the two popes were not only “great leaders and shepherds, but during their whole lives they placed a priority on the personal call to prayer and holiness.”
St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II gave us many examples of holiness, mercy and faith in God. They were charismatic, affectionate and exuded God’s love. St. John XXIII will always be remembered as the pope who reformed the church through the Second Vatican Council and brought it into the 20th century.
During the canonization ceremony, Pope Francis noted that both popes “cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the church.” St. John Paul, Pope Francis added, will be remembered as the pope of the family.
One other observation about the canonizations: It highlighted the leadership of four popes: the two elevated to sainthood and the two present at the ceremony, our retired Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. Fr. Barron suggested that church today is in a “Golden Age” of the papacy, made possible by the leadership of these four popes.
“I don’t think since the first century of the church’s life have we seen such a concentration of really powerful, saintly figures in the papacy,” said Fr. Barron. “So, even as we bemoan some of the dark things in the church, I think we should celebrate the fact that this is a Golden Age of the papacy.”
The church’s leadership, thanks to the Holy Spirit, is indeed in good hands. Let us give thanks for this blessing.