Saints are sources of inspiration for Catholics, or people of any faith, on how to dedicate one’s life to God. Pope Francis has already induced hundreds of new saints into the church, including both martyrs (those who have died for the faith) and laymen (non- ordained members of the church). On April 27, Pope Francis plans to canonize both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII to sainthood.
The Catholic definition of a saint is a person whom the Church recognizes as having died in a state of grace after living a life exceptional in its holiness. Catholics pray to saints in order that the saints might intercede before God on their behalf.
“I was really surprised that John Paul II’s canonization process happened so quickly,” said Sister Maureen O’Brien, director of campus ministry. “But I think Francis was really wise in choosing both of them, because they really do standout as innovators of the church, in different ways but both certainly are men of our time.”
The canonization ceremony for these two former popes will be unique in a number of ways. Canonizations have previously only occurred individually; this will be the first time two people are canonized at the same time. Canonizing the two popes on the same day will promote unity within the church, as the two have separate followings among conservatives and reformers within the church.
“To celebrate them together is a sign of appreciation of the holiness of two popes who paid witness to our time,” said Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, during a news conference.
For a person to be declared a saint, they must go through the canonization process. Five years must pass after the person’s death before the process can begin, in order to “allow greater balance and objectivity in evaluating the case and to let the emotions of the moment dissipate,” according to a statement made by the Holy See Press Office. Investigation is then done to be sure that the person led a virtuous life. In order to then be beatified, a miracle must be attributed to the person, and another miracle is needed for canonization.
“I think it’s much harder today to validate miracles because of advances in medical science. But I think there is a lot of care given and a lot of investigation into their lives and into the works that they did. Miracles have become somewhat less significant than they used to be, in the canonization process,” said O’Brien.
John Paul II’s first miracle occurred six months after his death when a French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, prayed for the late pope’s intercession and then recovered from Parkinson’s disease.
The second miracle attributed to John Paul II occurred the day he was beatified, in a ceremony in St Peter’s Square, where a woman was healed of her severe brain injury after her family prayed devotedly to John Paul II.
Another irregularity in the canonization of John XXIII is that, while most canonizations require that two miracles be attributed to the saint, John XXIII only has one miracle; the healing of Sister Caterina in 1996. After suffering for years from a violent illness related to a hemorrhagic area in her chest and ulcerous tumors covering her stomach, Sister Caterina was inexplicably healed from all illnesses after praying to the late pope, and seeing a vision of him appear by her bedside.
“Pope Francis has decided that there already was a decree of heroic virtue saying that the man had lived a holy life,” CNN’s Vatican analyst John Allen told CNN.
John Allen told CNN, “There already was one miracle certified for his beatification in 2000, so Pope Francis has decided he doesn’t have to pass go, doesn’t have to collect $200, he can go directly to sainthood.”
“It’s not like Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II, will suddenly become a saint when the canonization ceremony occurs,” said Allen on CNN. “The belief would be he is already in heaven with God, living the life of a saint. All that’s going to happen when the ceremony occurs is that the church will officially recognize that.”
Both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII were revolutionary leaders for the Church.
John XXIII was responsible for summoning the Second Vatican Council in 1962, which transformed the papacy and renewed the Catholic faith. One change brought about by Vatican II is that masses can be celebrated in the congregation’s vernacular tongue instead of in the traditional Latin. The role of laymen and the role of bishops were both given more emphasis after the Council as well.
“I really have a strong affinity for him (Pope John XXIII) because of his short papacy, where extraordinary things happened within the Church. He had the wisdom and the courage to convene the second Vatican council, which again help us to look at the church in whole new ways,” said O’Brien. “He’s a very extraordinary human being.”
John Paul II held many meetings with leaders of nations and important government officials. He had “38 official visits, 738 audiences and meetings held with Heads of State, and 246 audiences and meetings with Prime Ministers,”(Vatican.va). More than 17,600,000 pilgrims attended the general audiences he held on Wednesdays.
“Pope John Paul II was also, in his own way, [extraordinary]. He did God’s will and he related to young people, and that’s always an important need in the Church,” said O’Brien.
John Paul II was popular with the young adults, an audience that he focused on reaching in part by establishing World Youth Days where millions of young people from across the globe would gather to hear him speak.
“I think that Pope Francis is kind of a combination of the best of those men—John XXIII and John Paul II,” said O’Brien.
“I think they [saints] serve as role models for us,” said O’Brien. “There are those who died for the faith in extraordinary ways—the martyrs–but I’m really attracted to the people that just took each day as it came. I’m really attracted to the people who took it day-by- day, doing God’s will, helping other people, having concern for the poor and marginalized. In some ways they gave their lives totally, as a martyr does. So in other words they lived their life for the faith.”