I watched the moment of beatification of John Paul II live on CNN. It was about 3:30 am our time. The commentators repeated the ongoing controversies surrounding his fast-track to sainthood in the midst of the sexual abuse scandal. Meanwhile, the cameras showed waves of supporters flying flags and ecstatically welcoming the present pontiff, Benedict XVI, as he circled St. Peter`s square in the pope-mobile. It was reminiscent of the Royal wedding just days before. The cheering crowds on the TV screens seemed to make a mockery of the negative media coverage.
Of course, only die-hard Royal or Papal fans would brave the inconvenience of long lines and claustrophobic crowds to be physically present at either event. And much money was spent at each for effective security measures. Both the wedding and the beatification were blessed with sunny skies despite dire forecasts. Both were beautiful, photogenic moments for the history books.
As the tapestry was unveiled at the moment of beatification, I had an unexpected emotional moment. The portrait chosen was of JPII in the early years of his papacy. This was the strong, athletic Pole who had survived World War II and helped to bring down the iron curtain in Eastern Europe. This was the younger Pope who had inspired so many on his energetic travels around the world. These were exciting years of hopeful renewal, of reminders to `be not afraid` because our faith will help to conquer all the evils of the world.
We need hope in our church and world today. And, we all need our heroes. As we change with the growing years, our heroes may change with us. When the halos of our heroes are tarnished, we yearn for the nostalgia and passion of earlier times. And because we are a diverse people, we will never share the same depth of affection or acceptance of the heroes that the Church offers to us. We should accept this without undue or harsh judgment of each other.
Yesterday was a moment of great celebration for many in our church, and indeed in our world. We need celebrations to lighten the heart and energize the spirit. But all parties end. The true test of a celebration comes in the morning after.
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?
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.