Two modern Catholic icons elevated to sainthood

Pittsburghers share joy for John XXIII, John Paul II



VATICAN CITY -- Pittsburgh's jet-lagged delegation of about 90 people set off from the hotel at 4:30 a.m. Sunday and arrived by 5 at the foot of the main boulevard leading to St. Peter's Square -- five hours before Mass. The group barely budged after that. The square already belonged to the throngs of people who had slept all night just outside the square.

Jam-packed worshippers throughout the Vatican -- estimated at 800,000 -- formed a flag-waving, multilingually singing and praying multitude Sunday morning as Pope Francis formally declared the two most influential popes of the 20th century are now St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II.

In contrast to the jubilant scenes of singing and dancing crowds that had begun converging Saturday, the morning Mass was a relatively solemn affair, with frequent but controlled applause for John Paul II, particularly from the legion of fellow Poles who have been devoted to him since the start of his historic reign, and polite applause for John XXIII, who launched the reformist Second Vatican Council of the 1960s.

John XXIII and John Paul II canonized as saints

More than half a million worshipers at the Vatican celebrated as Pope Francis declared that the two most influential popes of the 20th century -- John XXIII and John Paul II -- are now saints. (Video by Peter Smith; edited by Melissa Tkach 4/27/2014)

"They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century," Pope Francis said of the newest saints, who lived through world wars, helped protect Jews during the Holocaust and navigated communist oppression of Roman Catholics and others. "They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful."

He added: "In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy."

The two-hour Mass, with liturgies in Latin and Greek and weaving in prayers from numerous languages, took place in comfortably cool, breezy weather beneath a gray sky. The service included robust choral anthems but no congregational singing, and the congregation largely followed along the liturgy in silence as people watched the service on large-screen televisions set up around the Vatican.

Bishop David Zubik, who is leading the Pittsburgh group's weeklong pilgrimage to Rome, sat in the square with hundreds of other bishops, priests and civil dignitaries. Also present was Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a longtime close colleague of John Paul II

* * *

Although both popes have complex legacies, John XXIII is considered a hero by progressives for shaking up the church with Vatican II, which put Masses in local languages, opened relations with non-Catholics and declared that all, not just a clerical elite, have a mission to serve the church and lead holy lives.

John was pope from 1958 until his death in 1963.

John Paul II, who spiritually energized opposition to communism in his native Poland and elsewhere in the Soviet bloc, reasserted church dogma and authority and drew massive crowds in his trips around the world, particularly inspiring the young.

He also drew fierce criticism for his handling of the sexual abuse crisis in the church, which exploded under his watch, and for his reassertions of Vatican, clerical and male authority.

But over the weekend, the Vatican precincts were overwhelmed by his admirers, with John XXIII receiving polite support but hardly the effusive love showered on John Paul II.

John Paul II was one of the longest-serving popes in history, serving from 1978 to his death in 2005. His confidant and successor, Benedict, waived some rules to put him on the fast track for sainthood after multitudes shouted "santo subito" (sainthood now) in Italian at his funeral. Pope Francis also waived usual rules to include John XXIII, in what was seen as an effort to balance heroes of the right and left. But relatively few are old enough to remember much of John, while John Paul encountered millions in person and particularly inspired Poles, other Slavs, doctrinal conservatives and masses of youth, leaving little doubt about whose day this was.

* * *

Thousands slept overnight near the square on sidewalks, in squares and anywhere else there was free space. Before day even broke, Vatican City was a crush of multitudes and a mix of the sacred and the mundane -- singing in Polish, Spanish and other languages, waving national flags, praying the rosary and also jostling, sometimes aggressively, for more advantageous spots.

The Pittsburgh delegation got separated early, with one group just making it to the foot of Via della Conciliazione, the boulevard leading up to St. Peter's, another pitching camp in Piazza Pia nearby.

Several of those attending said it was a dream opportunity -- but could only wonder at some of the pushing and jockeying for position.

"I figured it would be crowded, but I thought it would be more orderly," said Lorraine Hayes, who was among many pushed over at various times.

Mary Boburczak agreed, saying she had never witnessed the dynamics of crowd mentality on this scale before. As she spoke, a man shouted loudly in Italian trying to get through the crowd.

But the group still drew inspiration from the prayerful devotions of most of those in the crowd.

"It was very important" to be at this event, said Ms. Hayes, who was inspired by the two popes as well as Pope Francis.

"This is the experience of a lifetime," Donna Carosella said.

And there was also plenty of camaraderie among the worshippers.

Jim Luteran drew the approving attention of nearby Poles as he came wearing buttons that proclaimed, "Two saints from Wadowice," with pictures of John Paul II and his childhood neighbor, his grandmother, Bapci Warmus. He had 30 buttons printed up and planned to give them to his many cousins and other relatives, complete with a papal blessing.

"She was so proud when he was elected. She said this man is going to change the world," recalled Mr. Luteran, 56, who saw John Paul at World Youth Day events around the world.

Ms. Carosella, 58, said the trip enabled her to "experience the universal church," with all the prayers and hymns in different languages arising spontaneously,

More than 100 students from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio, also came, traveling from their study-abroad location in Austria -- all smiles and looking none the worse for their 14-hour overnight bus trip.

Some spoke of their devotion to the Divine Mercy -- a set of devotions popularized by a Pole, St. Faustina Kowalska, whom John Paul canonized. John Paul also proclaimed the Sunday after Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday, adding poignancy to the canonizations.

"We are here today because we love JP2 and John XXIII," said Sarah Freddino of Connecticut, 18, a Franciscan sophomore. "JP2 showed us an authentic love for every human person."

She also cited how John revolutionized the church by calling the Second Vatican Council, whose reforms aimed to inspire all Catholics to lead holy lives.

"I don't think the church or the people of the church would be who we are without both of them," she said.


Peter Smith: petersmith@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1416 or on Twitter @PG_PeterSmith. First Published April 27, 2014 9:46 AM

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