Sainthood coming to 2 very different pontiffs


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One was pope for only a handful of years, 1958 to 1963, but he opened a council whose effects have lasted much longer. The other led the Roman Catholic Church for nearly three decades, 1978 to 2005, defining the role of pope for a generation.

Popes John XXIII and John Paul II lived in different times and faced different challenges, said Pittsburgh Bishop David A. Zubik, but they shared something.

"They had a charisma that made them the right person at the right time," he said.

Now, they'll share something else: At the same time Friday, both men were cleared for sainthood.

The current Pope Francis announced that John Paul II and John XXIII would be canonized. No date has been set for the official ceremonies, but they are expected to occur by the end of the year.

Both canonizations will be somewhat unusual -- John Paul II's because it comes relatively soon after his death, and John XXIII's because the Vatican had not confirmed a second miracle it could attribute to his intercession. The Vatican said Pope Francis was able to "dispense" with the normal procedures and could canonize the earlier pope on his own merits.

As for John Paul, the Vatican confirmed that the second miracle, which qualified him for sainthood, involved a Costa Rican woman. She had a cerebral aneurism that was inexplicably cured in 2011 on the day John Paul was beatified, the Spanish-Catholic newspaper La Razon reported.

John Paul's sainthood had already been fast-tracked shortly after his death by then-Pope Benedict XVI, who waived the customary five-year wait for the beatification process.

The Rev. Jerome Vereb, a Passionist priest and Knoxville native who served in the Vatican's Ponti?cal Council for Promoting Christian Unity (Secretariat), attributed the speed with which John Paul went from pope to saint to two main factors: the call for his canonization from the lay members of the church and Pope Francis' desire to make John Paul a symbol for faith at a time when the Vatican continues to deal with ongoing scandals, including those related to clerical sex abuse and the Vatican bank.

"Pope Francis, in great humility and meekness, decided to make Pope John Paul II an icon for this year's theme of the year of faith," Father Vereb said, referring to a Vatican designation.

However, not everyone greeted the news positively.

Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, called the canonization "rubbing salt into the wounds" of those affected by the clerical sex-abuse scandal.

"We believe that's one more sign that church officials are doing one thing and saying the other," Ms. Blaine said.

For Father Vereb, who worked with John Paul, the announcement Friday had added significance.

"Both popes were aware of the need for unity among Christians," Father Vereb said.

Yet their approach was different, said the Rev. Lou Vallone, pastor of St. John of God in McKees Rocks and St. Catherine of Siena in Crescent.

Father Vallone, who entered the seminary a few years after John XXIII became pope, watched as the man elected to be a "caretaker" instead called for the Second Vatican Council. The meeting of the church's leaders helped to modernize the way its message was communicated, for example, by allowing Mass to be celebrated in languages other than Latin.

"He wanted the church to be more user-friendly," he said.

John Paul, in Father Vallone's view, had a more institutional, rigid view of the church.

He likened Pope Francis' decision to canonize both men at the same time to the way a parent tries to mediate between two extremes. What Pope Francis is saying, Father Vallone said, is that "both of these men had an authentic view of the church, even though they were very disparate from each other."

To Mike Aquilina, a Bridgeville resident who is the author of more than 40 books on Catholic history, doctrine and devotion, the men had "the same vision." However, due to the length of his leadership, John Paul "came to define the papacy" for Mr. Aquilina's generation, he said.

Canonizing both will mean a "great celebration" for Catholics, Mr. Aquilina said, especially at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Polish Hill. The Polish parish has long revered and honored the Roman Catholic Church's first Polish pope. Inside the church there is a statue of John Paul, as well as a relic: a piece of the cassock the pope was wearing during an assassination attempt in 1981.

Once the date of his canonization is determined, the parish will plan a celebration, said the pastor, the Rev. Joseph Swierczynski.

For Father Swierczynski, who met John Paul along with a small audience of priests in Rome, the canonization announcement came as no surprise. "I never doubted it," he said. "I always knew that was coming."

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Associated Press contributed. Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.


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