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Saints John XXIII and John Paul II canonised
Before an audience of hundreds of thousands in St Peter's Square, and an even greater crowd spilling over into the Via della Conciliazione in Rome, Pope Francis canonised two of his predecessors, John XXIII and John Paul II, who exercised a great personal influence on him as well as on the Catholic Church and the world.
The Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday, 27 April 2014, was watched by hundreds of millions of people on TV around the world.
John XXIII was pope for just five years, from 1958 to 1963. Aged 78 at the time of his election, he was viewed at the time as a stop-gap after the long pontificate of Pope Pius XII.
However, he surprised many by his energy and enthusiasm. In this period he produced the last revision of the Latin Mass (1962), issued the social encyclicals Mater et Magistra (Mother and Teacher) (1961) and Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) (1963), and instituted the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law.
He is remembered today for his decision, unexpected at the time, to convene the Second Vatican Council which was convened to be a pastoral council to complete the work of the unfinished First Vatican Council, and adapt the church to the new challenges of the 20th century.
In the five years of his pontificate he was, as his official biography recalls, "an authentic image of the Good Shepherd. Meek and gentle, resourceful and courageous, simple and ever active, he undertook various corporal and spiritual works of mercy, visiting prisoners and the sick, welcoming people of all nations and religions, demonstrating an exquisite sense of fatherhood to everyone."
Pope John Paul II, born in Poland in 1920, was the first non-Italian pope in over 450 years.
On his election in 1978, he began an extraordinary missionary pontificate, making over 100 international journeys in which he visited most of the countries of the world (except the Soviet Union and China), strengthening the faith of believers, and building better relations with non-Christians and governments.
His influence was particularly profound in his native Poland, where he served as an inspiration to millions of his fellow Poles. He played a central role in the collapse of Soviet communism, and the rebuilding of free, democratic institutions in Eastern Europe.
He wrote 14 encyclicals, as well as apostolic letters and books.
At the Mass for the canonisation of the two popes, Pope Francis referred to the profound link between their humanity and their sanctity.
After reflecting on the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday), in which Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection and showed the Apostle Thomas the wounds in his hands and his side, Pope Francis said, "Saint John XXIII and Saint 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 scandalised 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.
"These were two men of courage, filled with the gift of the Holy Spirit to speak out boldly, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God's goodness and mercy."
He said they were priests, and bishops and popes of the 20th 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."
Pope Francis said that in these two men, "There dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:3,8). 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."
He added, "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."
He observed that this is the image of the Church which the Second Vatican Council set before us. Saints John XXIII and John Paul II "co-operated 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. Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church.
"In convening the Council, Saint 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, guided by the Holy Spirit. This was his great service to the Church; for this reason I like to think of him as the pope of openness to the Holy Spirit.
"In his own service to the People of God, Saint John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family.
"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.
"May these two new saints and shepherds of God's people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey toward the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family.
"May both of them teach us not to be scandalised by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves."
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 27 No 5 (June 2014), p. 3
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