John Paul II reigned as pontiff for almost 27 years and spent much of that time traveling the globe. Many Catholics can boast that they either saw him, or the degrees of separation between them and the pope are few. Here are my own John Paul II connections.
- I`m first generation Polish. Need I say more?!
- I was spending a year in a Benedictine monastery when Karol Woytyła was elected pope. The monastery was founded by Polish speaking Sisters to serve immigrant families on the prairies. Cardinal Woytyła visited them before he was pope. There was much jubilation on his election day – and some argument over who`s bible he had used to say mass.
- My husband and I attended an outdoor Papal mass during John Paul II`s visit to Canada in 1984.
- My parents watched our 19 month old son for us on the day of the mass. My Dad had a pass to the air force base where the pope`s plane landed. The pope saw the small crowd gathered to welcome him and went over to meet them. Dad squeezed to the front with our son, managing to get a papal blessing for my boy.
- In 1996 I attended the beatification ceremony in Rome of Jakob Gapp, a Marianist priest and martyr. The signs of age and illness in John Paul II were already obvious. This was not the vibrant and energetic man from the Canadian visit. Yet, it was still still amazing to hear him address the international audience in a multitude of languages.
- In the spring of 2005 I was glued to the TV with the rest of the world as we awaited his death, mourned him, and buried him.
- I visited his tomb several times in St. Peter`s. Its prayerful atmosphere and elegant simplicity contrasts with the overbearing massiveness of other papal tombs and monuments around Rome.
What stories or memories do you have of the soon to be Blessed John Paul II?
Is there value in giving official recognition of sanctity to women and men in our Church?
On the plus side…
The church is Catholic – universal. We are women and men of diverse vocations and life choices. We embrace different charisms and spiritualities woven into the tapestry of our history. We come from many cultures, professions, and educational back-grounds. We need to know saintly women and men who led lives like ours, people whom we can relate to, look up to and be inspired by. We need heavenly patrons – a personal link to the powerful prayer machine called the communion of saints.
For a religious congregation or ecclesial movement, having a founder or member elevated as a Blessed (beatification) or Saint (canonization) is a source of great energy and pride. It not only affirms the person`s sanctity, it is also an affirmation for the spiritual path chosen by their followers.
On the negative side…
There`s no denying that beatification and canonization is a bureaucratic process. It is an intense and expensive venture requiring years of painstaking research and investigation before the cause can be presented to the Vatican for consideration. Many smaller communities, congregations or movements cannot afford either the time or the money.
There can also be political overtones. Elevating a person to sainthood does not automatically canonize all their thoughts and teachings. But, the appearance of ideological support is hard to ignore. For example, despite the controversy surrounding Opus Dei, John Paul II canonized their founder, Josemaria Escrivá, a mere 27 years after his death. Oscar Romero and Dorothy Day are yet to be beatified despite their active social justice works.
We need our saints, from centuries ago and from modern times. The Church`s process for beatification and canonization merely affirms that a person led a life of courageous faith and sanctity, and we believe that they have now entered eternal glory. We all know many saints who have gone before us. The hidden lives of these holy women and men, family and friends, may not receive a Vatican celebration. But they share the same glory as the great saints of history.
Whether or not our loved ones make the official list, we unite with them in prayer across time and space. We know that they will pray with us and pray for us.
John Allen Jr. , Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, is devoting his daily blog this week to the May 1st Beatification of John Paul II. As usual, he attempts to give a balanced perspective on events and issues. Yesterday, he wrote about the continued popularity of this pope despite the fact that his life was often a sign of contradiction . The contradictions have led many to question the wisdom of beatifying the late pope so swiftly.
The most cited reason for delaying or denying the beatification is John Paul II`s lack of action against priests and bishops accused of sexual abuse. Some ultra-traditionalists object to the inter-religious dialogue promoted by John Paul in Assisi, claiming it led to a rise in relativism. Many liberals object to his firm stance against women`s ordination, liberation theology, and the silencing of many theologians.
Despite the controversy, there is no denying the popularity of Pope John Paul II. At the time of his death, the crowds in St. Peter`s square held up banners… Santo Subito – Sainthood Now! That is how holy women and men were recognized as saints in the early days of the church. People saw their sanctity, and celebrated it spontaneously. Many Catholics believe in the sainthood of John Paul II, whether it is officially sanctioned or not.
I wish that it could have been left at this simple and personal level. Patient waiting would have allowed for more dialogue in the midst of the controversy. The Vatican will be paying $6 million for the Beatification ceremonies. Maybe it is not the right moment for Cardinals and Bishops to be parading in all their glory and finery as they elevate one of their own towards sainthood. Or perhaps it will be a much needed PR moment for the Church during these dark days of scandals. Time will tell.