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The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no 38)

  Sainted Popes

Next Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter (now known also as Divine Mercy Sunday), the Catholic Church around the world will celebrate the canonization of two remarkable Twentieth Century popes. Canonization is the formal and public recognition by the Church of the heroic sanctity of one of her deceased members. Those whose names are entered in the canon of the saints are venerated by the faithful as shining examples of the Christian life, as living signs of the wonderful diversity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and as powerful intercessors for the Church on earth.
 
JOHN XXIII
 
Angelo Roncalli was elected pope in 1958. He was “servant of the servants of God” for a brief five years. He was a simple man, from a very large family (of “good peasant stock” was his own description). But he caught Rome's attention as a gifted administrator and a quietly effective diplomat. He had traveled widely on behalf of Pope Pius XII in support of the Church's foreign missions, and later in the Vatican's diplomatic corps in Eastern Europe and France. In 1953, he became Patriarch (Archbishop) of Venice. Because of his age (78), and because he was known as a Vatican “insider”, many assumed that he would be an interim pope; a caretaker, not an initiator. However, only three months after his election, the unassuming “good pope John” as he was known by those near to him, entirely surprised the Church and world, announcing that he would call a world-wide ecumenical council — a second Vatican Council. He opened the council in 1962, but did not live to see it concluded. He died in 1963, leaving the Council in the hands of his successor Pope Paul VI.
 
JOHN PAUL II
 
On October 16, 1978, most people, Catholics included, were once again surprised by goings on in Rome when it was announced that a Polish archbishop by the name of Karol Wojtyla had been elected pope. There had been no non-Italian pope for 455 years! But, of course, as Jesus said: “The Spirit blows where it will” (Jn. 3). John Paul II served the church for 27 years. He brought to his pontificate the experiences of a man who had loved and served the Church in a land brutally oppressed. He lived through savage occupation by first, the German Nazis, then by the Soviet Union. Especially during his years as Archbishop of Krakow, the Communist regime hated him and feared his great popularity with the Polish people. He also brought to the task a brilliant and penetrating intellect. Beginning his career as a professor of philosophy, he remained always a teacher of the Church. At the Second Vatican Council, the new 47-year old Bishop of Krakow was soon at the center of the deliberations. He helped to shape and articulate what Pope Benedict XVI has called the most important theme of the Council: as Christ reveals God to humanity, he at the same time reveals humanity to itself. For only in the light of Christ can the true dignity and destiny of the human creature be recognized. Many popes have written encyclical teaching letters, but John Paul II transformed the genre, probing the spiritual power and intellectual coherence of the Catholic Faith, engaging the secular intellectual, political, and social trends of the day. It may turn out that John Paul II's greatest gift to the Church is his theology of love (popularly known as his “theology of the body”) especially as Christ's love is mirrored in the love of the family.
 
Good Pope John, John Paul II, theologian of love: pray for us.
 


 
 
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