April 28, 2014 — For the first time in the Catholic Church’s history, two popes will be made saints in the same ceremony when Pope Francis canonizes John XXIII and John Paul II on April 27. The Mass will be held in St. Peter’s Square, just outside the basilica where the mortal remains of the two rest.
As many as three million pilgrims are expected in Rome for the occasion, as well as 24 heads of state, 35 prime ministers and 23 government ministers from various countries, according to Italian Interior Minister Angelino Alfano. Millions more are expected to watch the ceremony on TV or the Internet.
Blessed John Paul II, known as a globetrotter who made 104 trips outside Italy, served as pope from 1978 to 2005 and was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on May 1, 2011. Blessed John XXIII, known particularly for convening the Second Vatican Council, was pope from 1958 to 1963; Pope John Paul beatified him in 2000.
Pope Francis said Blessed John was holy, patient, had a good sense of humor and, especially by calling the Second Vatican Council, was a man of courage. “He was a man who let himself be guided by the Lord.”
As for Blessed John Paul, Pope Francis said, “I think of him as the great missionary of the church,” because he was “a man who proclaimed the Gospel everywhere.”
According to Jesuit Father William Watters, pastor of St. Ignatius Church in Baltimore, “These saintly yet very human men are greatly admired by people across the entire world. In their lifetime they made a lasting impact on the church and the world. Men of deep prayer and great service to others, their lives and accomplishments continue to exemplify a goodness and holiness that inspire us to imitate them in our own lives and actions.”
Although he served as pope for less than five years, Blessed John XXIII (1958-1963) left one of the most lasting legacies in the Catholic Church's history by convening the Second Vatican Council.
Citing the Holy Spirit as his source of inspiration, he called the Second Vatican Council to help the church confront the rapid changes and mounting challenges unfolding in the world — and, by inviting non-Catholics to the council, to work toward Christian unity.
As pope from 1958 to 1963, Blessed John launched a renewal of the church, which set in motion major reforms with regard to the church and its structure, the liturgy, ecumenism, social communication and Eastern churches.
He produced a number of historic encyclicals, including “Mater et Magistra” on Christian social doctrine and “Pacem in Terris,” issued in 1963 at the height of the Cold War, on the need for global peace and justice.
Blessed John XXIII visited many parishes in Rome, and his contact with the people and his personal warmth, sensitivity and fatherly kindness earned him the nickname, “the Good Pope.”
Jesuit Father James Martin wrote that he was drawn to John XXIII “not as much for his wit, or his writings, or his love of the church, or even his accomplishments as for something more basic: his love for God and for other people.”
Blessed John XXIII died of cancer on June 3, 1963.
Blessed John Paul II (1978-2005) was one of the most forceful moral leaders of the modern age. He brought a philosopher's intellect, a pilgrim's spiritual intensity and an actor's flair for the dramatic to his role as head of the church for more than 26 years.
The Polish pope was a tireless evangelizer and forceful communicator, speaking to millions in their own languages. But toward the end of his life, his powers of speech faltered with his worsening illness, which left him often unable to even murmur a blessing.
The first non-Italian pope in 455 years, Blessed John Paul became a spiritual protagonist in two global transitions: the fall of European communism, which began in his native Poland in 1989, and the passage to the third millennium of Christianity.
As pastor of the universal church, he jetted around the world, taking his message to 129 countries— including seven trips to the United States.
In his later years, the pope moved with difficulty, tired easily and was less expressive, all symptoms of Parkinson's disease. Yet he pushed himself to the limits of his physical capabilities, convinced that such suffering was itself a form of spiritual leadership.
His social justice encyclicals, including his landmark document, the apostolic letter “Novo Millennio Ineunte” (“At the Beginning of the New Millennium”), made a huge impact, addressing the moral dimensions of human labor, the widening gap between rich and poor and the shortcomings of the free-market system.
After more than 26 years as pope, Blessed John Paul died at
the age of 84 at the Vatican on April 2, 2005. [Source and photos: Catholic News Service]