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Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II to be Canonized Together on Mercy Sunday

By Deacon Keith Fournier
October 1st, 2013
Catholic Online (

The decision to canonize Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II together speaks a message of mercy and underscores the fact that the work of renewal and reform of the Church, as properly understood, will continue. It also puts the axe to the root of any who, directly or indirectly, seek to diminish the importance of the Second Vatican Council. The joint participation of Benedict and Francis in the event underscores a proper approach to the Council, a hermeneutic of continuity.  

VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) - The official announcement from the Holy See "decreed that Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II will be enrolled among the saints on April 27, 2014, the Second Sunday of Easter, of the Divine Mercy." 

During a public consistory with his brother Bishops, Francis, often called the Pope of Mercy by the faithful, announced the expected news that Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II will be raised to sainthood, canonized, together. The confirmation of the date chosen is utterly fitting. The Canonizations will take place on the Sunday Feast of Divine Mercy, April 27, 2014.

The joy in the Pope was evident, and rightly so. The angels in heaven are also rejoicing. He has often been compared to Pope John XXIII, especially in his smile and kind demeanor. He has also been compared to Pope John Paul II,in his passion for evangelization, his love for the poor and his call to mercy. His linking of the two popes in one Liturgy of canonization,like all of his actions, is prophetic. 

This is a Pope who understands that he speaks most loudly through his actions. What is it about Francis that grabs the heart of a watching world, cuts through cynicism and imparts happiness and hope to so many? I suggest the answer is simple; it is the character of Christ which he reveals. It is the Mercy of God which he preaches - in word and prophetic action.

The name which Cardinal Bergoglio took upon accepting the invitation to be the successor of Peter was appropriate. The little poor man of Assisi named Francis had a similar effect in his own time. Francis, like his namesake, is a simple, joyful, humble, merciful and uncomplicated man, a man so in love with Jesus Christ that when people see him, they see Jesus.

He truly reminds me of the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians, "No longer do I live but Christ lives in me". (Gal. 2:20) It is not about Francis - and simple people discern that right away. It is all about Jesus Christ, whom he serves, proclaims and lives.

Like the Lord whom he loves, Francis loves God's people - and they know it. They want to be with him just like they wanted to be with Jesus. That is how it is with holy people. Yet, as it is also with holy people - it is not really about Francis. People are being drawn to Jesus Christ, whether they know it yet or not. His message, spoken with lip and life, makes it all so very clear.  He walks the talk.

The decision to canonize Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II together speaks a message of mercy and underscores the fact that the work of renewal and reform of the Church, as properly understood, will continue. It also puts the axe to the root of any who, directly or indirectly, seek to diminish the importance of the Second Vatican Council. The joint participation of Benedict and Francis in the event underscores a proper approach to the Council, a hermeneutic of continuity.  

My memory of Blessed John XXIII is really captured by his smile. The stories of his visiting the poor and surprising so many with his humble, joyful encounters are inspiring. His convening of the Second Vatican Council established his place in the history of the Catholic Church for ages to come. 

However, for me, I had no experience with him personally.

Not so with Blessed John Paul II. I was captured by his teaching, moved by his apostolic ministry and totally transformed by a blessed personal encounter with him which completely turned my life upside down. I have long known what will be formally proclaimed on April 27, 2014, he is a Saint. 

On April 2, 2005 at 9:37 p.m., John Paul II died. In April of 2009 his beloved successor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, told Pilgrims gathered in Rome "With you, I pray for the gift of beatification".  That prayer was answered on Friday, January 14, 2011 the Holy See released the "Decree for the Beatification of the Servant of God John Paul II."

The choice of the Feast of Divine Mercy, May 1, 2011 was no accident. John Paul had a deep devotion to his fellow Pole Sr. Faustina Kowalska and to the Divine Mercy devotion identified with her. In August 2002, in Lagiewniki, Poland where Sr. Faustina lived and died, John Paul II entrusted the entire world  "to Divine Mercy, to the unlimited trust in God the Merciful."

The Decree of his Beatification noted, "Since the beginning of his pontificate, in 1978, John Paul II often spoke in his homilies of the mercy of God. This became the theme of his second encyclical, Dives in Misericordia, in 1980. He was aware that modern culture and its language do not have a place for mercy, treating it as something strange; they try to inscribe everything in the categories of justice and law. But this does not suffice, for it is not what the reality of God is about."

With millions of the faithful, I prayed fervently throughout those final days of his life before he entered the eternal communion of love. What a gift he was - and still is. He showed us how to live and how to love as Jesus, poured out for others. He showed us that suffering joined to the Savior is a sign and vehicle of God's mercy and an occasion of grace.

Then, he showed us how to die, not with fear, but with living faith which opens into eternity.

This Polish Pope was so filled with the love of God it was contagious. A talented and gifted "man of letters", a playwright, a philosopher, an intellectual giant, a poet, and a genuinely human person, he had a heart that embraced the whole world like the Heart of the One whom he represented on earth.

He traversed the globe, proclaiming freedom to the captives and truth to the victims of failed false ideologies that had ravaged the people of the twentieth century, the bloodiest in all of human history. He proclaimed the unchanging, Christian message with a prophetic urgency, profound clarity and contemporary relevance.

Many tried to label him but he demonstrated how shallow the labels can be. He was simply a Christian who stood on the shoulders of giants, rooted in the ancient rich tradition of the Church while proclaiming Jesus Christ as "forever young."

Communism, atheism, secularism, and false humanisms, were exposed because he had the courage to stand up to tyrants with the bold message of the God who came among us to make us all new! He taught that Jesus Christ is the path to authentic personal, social and universal freedom!

He authored more encyclical letters, apostolic exhortations, constitutions and letters than any Pope in the two thousand year history of the Christian Church. Once I started reading his writings as a young man I could not stop. I wanted to consume them, and I have done so, over and over. I also hoped to become them and offer them to others. On that front, I have a long way to go.

It was the writings of John Paul which prompted a later call in life for this lawyer to the Catholic Diaconate, the pursuit of a Masters Degree at his Institute and later studies for the PhD in Moral Theology at Catholic University, focusing on his immense contributions. I knew I was called to be a part of the New Evangelization and New Springtime of world missions which he proclaimed.

His successor, Pope Emeritus Benedict continued that trajectory. Now, Pope Francis, the Pope of mercy, is opening new horizons to the Message of the Mercy of God which John Paul proclaimed, embodied and died manifesting for the world. 

Over many years I have been drawn into the ever deepening experience of living in the communion of the Church because John Paul II taught about it and lived it with beauty. He captured my heart and inspired me to ever deeper prayer. I have tried to practice his version of authentic ecumenism. I have tried to pass on to others his message of authentic freedom. However, the older I get, the more I realize how little I have accomplished.

This giant whose voice changed history was barely able to speak during those final hours. The once physically robust Pope presided over the Church from a wheelchair as a prophetic sign of the dignity of every human life; the message he carried throughout his pontificate. Just before he died he spoke to a friend at his bedside "I am happy. You should be too. Let us pray together with joy." Then, on April 2, 2005 at 9:37 p.m. after asking, "Let me go to my Father's House", he died in peace. The world wept.

I remember his death like it was yesterday. Along with millions, my heart sunk as he was placed in the earth after such a long period of suffering. When the "transitus" (passing to eternal life) of this holy man was completed it seemed as though that earth stood still. History was changed by the witness of one man singularly conformed to the One whom he served, Jesus Christ.

John Paul II was in both life and death a "living letter", as St Paul wrote to the Corinthians. (2 Cor.3) Also, like the Lord he loved he became a "grain of wheat" fallen to the ground in order to bear much fruit. (John 12: 24-26) Like many others my life was forever changed by this prophet who occupied Peters' chair for such a brief time. I must admit, my heart still hurts when I think of him. I still miss him.

I am convinced that history will record him as John Paul the Great. However, I am further convinced that his message still remins to to be unpacked in order to be effectively used as material for the work to be done in this new missionary age.

Pope Benedict unpacked it through his profound theology and teaching. He also personified it in the dignity and humility of his pontificate; crowned by his historic and humble act of voluntarily  stepping aside. It continues through his prophetic choice of spending the remainder of his days in a monastic vocation praying for the Church he loves.

Now, Pope Francis is unpacking the message with his all embracing evangelical zeal, love for the poor and prophetic message of the call to a new missionary age of the Church which enlists all of us!

The sentiment of the faithful expressed on the day when John Paul's dead body was processed through the streets of Rome, "Santo Subito" has been confirmed. He will be canonized on the Sunday of Divine Mercy, along with Blessed John XXIII, and the faithful will be able to say in public what we have known all along, John Paul II is a Saint.  We will also say that John XXIII is a saint.

With the joint canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II we will reaffirm as a universal Church that the Second Vatican Council is a gift. Though it is still being  unpacked - under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and in continuity with the past - it points us toward the future and illuminates the path.

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