Popes & Processes: Canonisations of Popes John XXIII & John Paul II

Canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II,  27th April 2014

Stamps commemorating the canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, 27th April 2014

Vatican, Italy 

In a series of firsts in the history of the Catholic church, two Popes – John XXIII and John Paul II – are set to become saints in a Vatican ceremony attended by two living Popes – Pope Francis with Pope Benedict XVI in attendance.

That’s almost more Popes than you can shake a crozier at.

It will be the first time since the Middle Ages that two Popes will become saints at the same time.

Pope John XXIII was born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in Lombardy in 1881. Roncalli rose to Apostolic Nucio to France in 1944. With World War II underway,  he was responsible for negotiating the status of bishops who had collaborated with Germany. He also dedicated himself to saving refugees – especially Jews – from the Nazis. He continued to rise in the ranks of the church, eventually being appointed Patriarch of Venice, Italy.

At the time of the conclave in October 1958 following the death of Pope Pius XII, Roncalli was Patriarch of Venice (the ordinary bishop of the Archdiocese of Venice).

Whilst in with a good chance at being elected Pope at this conclave, his eventual appointment still came as a bit of a surprise. In fact, Roncalli – now Pope John XXIII – had even booked a return train ticket back to Venice after the conclave!

Pope John XXIII became known  as “Good Pope John”, although he served as Pope for less than 6 years, dying of stomach cancer in June of 1963.

However during his short term, he made a lot of changes. It was Pope John XXIII that called the Second Vatican Council that ran from 1962-65, focusing on renewing Catholic doctrine in light of modern society. He also instigated the practice of saying mass in the local vernacular.

During his tenure, he called for equality in his famous statement, “We are all made in God’s image, and thus, we are all Godly alike”.

He was the first Pope to become Time magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ in 1962. John Paul II was the second and Francis the third in 2013.

Just two years after Pope John XXIII’s death, his successor Pope Paul VI called for his canonisation, declaring Pope John XXIII a Servant of God (the Catholic term given to someone being considered for sainthood). In 1999, he was declared Venerable (when a Servant of God is deemed “heroic in virtue” during the canonisation process). The next step in becoming a saint is beatification, which for Pope John XXIII occurred in September 2000 under Pope John Paul II.

Immediately after his beatification,  a number of prayers in his name were reported to have been answered. This contributed to the Vatican deciding to skip the official second miracle usually required as part of the sainthood process.

In another unusual move, the feast day of Pope John XXIII is celebrated not on the anniversary of his passing, as is custom, but rather on the anniversary of the 1st session of the Second Vatican Council.

Just two years after Pope John XXIII’s death, his successor Pope Paul VI called for his canonisation, declaring Pope John XXIII a Servant of God (the Catholic term given to someone being considered for sainthood). In 1999, he was declared Venerable (when a Servant of God is deemed “heroic in virtue” during the canonisation process). The next step in becoming a saint is beatification, which for Pope John XXIII occurred in September 2000 under Pope John Paul II.

Immediately after his beatification,  a number of miracles were reported to have occurred in response to prayers in his name. This contributed to the Vatican deciding to skip the second miracle usually required as part of the sainthood process.

In another unusual move, the feast day of Pope John XXIII is celebrated not on the anniversary of his passing, as is custom, but rather on the anniversary of the 1st session of the Second Vatican Council.

Posthumously he was also awarded the USA’s Presidential Medal of Freedom in December 1963 by President Johnson.

Pope John Paul II rather, born Karol Józef Wojtyła in Poland in 1920, was the first was non-Italian Pope since 1523. At the time of becoming Pope, John Paul II was  just 58 years old.

He was very active, known for jogging around the Vatican grounds as well as various other physical activities that earnt him the moniker, “The Keep-fit Pope”.

It is no surprise then that he stands as the second-longest serving Pope ever. This was despite an assassination attempt in May 1981 in St Peter’s Square. His shooter, Mehmet Ali Ağca (a Turkish member of the Grey Wolves militant fascist group), was captured by a nun and held until police arrived. Just one year and one day later whilst in Portugal, a Spanish priest upset with the changes brought about by the Pope  attempted to stab him with a bayonet. Al-Qaeda is also said to have funded an thwarted plot to bomb the Pope on a visit in the Philippines in 1995.

But aside from those who few who tried to shoot, stab and blow him up, Pope John Paul II was much-loved and respected, wielding great influence particularly in contributing to the end of Communist rule, first in Poland then around wider Europe.

He also fostered greater communication between other world religions, which together with his several papal documents helped bring the Catholic church into more modern times.

Pope John Paul II travelled widely, calling for a universal holiness – a lifelong seeking of God and living according to the word of Jesus. His travels were part of his wider goal to change the Catholic Church, calling for people from all religions to unite.

One way in which he promoted this idea was by apologising on behalf of the Church for past acts. He asked for forgiveness for church wrongdoings including the persecution of Galileo Galilei in the 1600s for his scientific claims, for burnings at the stake during the Reformation and the wars that ensued, as well as for the suppression of women’s rights.

Furthering Pope John Paul II’s desire to bring the Catholic Church into the modern era, he even sent out an email in 2001 to apologise for sex abuses and the acts of missionaries in China during the colonial period and in Australia regarding the Aboriginal “Stolen Generations”.

Given that Pope John Paul II simplified the saint-making process, the Sacred Congregation for Rites, to beatify and canonise more people than all other Popes combined in the previous 500 years, it is fitting that he too should be given this title.

Pope Benedict decided to waive the standard 5-year posthumous waiting period to begin the process of making Pope John Paul II a saint. In 2009, just 4 years after his death, he was declared Venerable, becoming then beatified in 2011. His first miracle was healing a nun suffering from Parkinson’s disease – a disease he suffered from himself towards the end of his life.

After the canonisation of Pope John XXIII and John Paul II, there will now be 80 Popes (out of the 264 deceased pontiffs) who have been declared saints, with only two other Popes in the last 700 years having made the grade (Pope Pius V  in 1712 and Pius X in 1954).

The ceremony to declare Popes John XXIII and Pope John Paul II as saints will begin at the Vatican at 10am on Sunday, 27th April 2014, with a canonisation mass led by Pope Francis in St Peter’s Basilica. Closed circuit TVs will be set up outside in St Peter’s Square and around Rome’s city centre.

There are stamps, posters, plates, mugs, and even an ap to commemorate the event!

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With around 5 million visitors per year, the Vatican is a must-see destination for those in Rome, if not just for its amazing history and artworks held there within.

On our small-group Vatican tour, our groups are amongst the very first to enter the Vatican, whilst our expert Vatican guides bring the history of the Vatican to life!

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