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Laity's Holiness and John Paul II's Popularity

Interview With Father Peter Gumpel

ROME, APRIL 13, 2005 (Zenit) - The hundreds of thousands of people who crowded St. Peter's Square and nearby streets after John Paul II's death was an extraordinary event, by any standard.

Many observers explained this phenomenon as an expression of the Pope's popularity; others spoke of the changing signs of the times.

To better understand how and to what extent John Paul II's pontificate has changed the Church, we interviewed Father Peter Gumpel, who has lived under six Pontiffs, four of whom -- Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II -- he knew personally.

Q: What are the merits of John Paul II's pontificate?

Father Gumpel: He did much for peace; this is one of the duties of the Supreme Pontiff. He witnessed and communicated Christian doctrine systematically and constitutionally, even on topics that were not well appreciated, such as the question of marriage and celibacy. He was consistent, unhesitating and not worried about being unpopular.

Through his many trips and meetings he was in direct contact with hundreds of millions of people, and took the papacy to the people, precisely at a moment when the Church and the papacy were being criticized.

His genuineness and affability won over young people who followed him. Youths are the future of the Church and this is a very positive event.

He undoubtedly fostered the ecumenical movement with other Christian denominations and established good dialogue with the Jews and also the Muslims, without making undue concessions.

He promoted beatifications and canonizations in several ways, and the authentic concept of holiness, with a marked tendency in favor of the laity.

He encouraged the emergence and diffusion of new communities in the Church such as the new lay movements. There were problems in accepting these movements, but he counseled them and accepted, reconciled and supported them in their growth.

Q: During his funeral, so many called for John Paul II to be raised to the altars. Is a beatification by acclamation possible?

Father Gumpel: No, it's not possible. John Paul II might be proclaimed blessed but in the context of canonical rules and after a regular process.

We must remember that even for St. Francis, who was declared a saint two years after his death, two dossiers were prepared, drawn up by two different cardinals.

Q: John Paul II raised many blessed and saints to the altars. Why did Wojtyla give such prominence to the saints? What has changed in the procedure of processes of beatification and canonization?

Father Gumpel: Under his pontificate, 1,345 persons were beatified and 482 canonized. This number is greater than that of all Pontiffs over the last 400 years. It's an extraordinary fact.

For many people, to follow a path of holiness seems unrealizable. In fact, John Paul II wished to show that canonizations and beatifications do not require extraordinary events.

This is what Catholic doctrine teaches. Benedict XV, who died in 1922, had already said several times that true holiness consists of doing the things of ordinary life in an extraordinarily good, consistent and joyful way.

This doctrine was confirmed by Pius XI, who even said that true saints live in the monotony of daily life, do their work, and carry out their duties in a normal, consistent and joyful way -- a teaching confirmed by Pius XII and by all Popes who followed him up to John Paul II.

The Pontiff's objective was to present concrete examples of persons who lived Christianity in a consistent and radical way. This makes a greater impression on people than a book or a sermon. Wojtyla sought to convince people that it is possible to live as saints.

[There are] saints of all ages, for example, the children of Fatima, adolescents, adults who bear the burden of life, the elderly who seem to have no longer anything to hope for.

In particular, John Paul II focused attention on lay men and women who for a long time had remained behind. In the past, for many centuries it was thought that holiness was something for priests and religious, even though this was never the doctrine of the Church. The various orders promoted their members, but the laity had no one, not even a postulation to promote their causes.

The first postulation was that of the Society of Jesus, which took on a good number of causes of the laity, and the first to request to be responsible for the laity was Pius XII.

Wojtyla also paid much attention to martyrs, because this is the following that is closest to that of Christ who gave his life to protect us.

Thanks to the changes made by John Paul II, the apostolic constitution and annexed documents was promulgated ...

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