Triumph of the Cross

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The Exaltation of the Holy Cross –  Sunday, September 14, 2014

At the heart of every World Youth Day is a very simple, powerful, ancient Christian symbol: two large planks of wood, known as the World Youth Day Cross, that not a few journalists have called the “Olympic Torch” of the huge Catholic Festival that we were blessed to have in Canada in July 2002.

In 1984, at the close of the 1983 Holy Year of the Redemption at the
Vatican, Saint John Paul II entrusted to the young people of the world a
simple, twelve-foot wooden Cross, asking them to carry it across the world
as a sign of the love which the Lord Jesus has for humankind and “to proclaim to everyone that only in Christ who died and is risen is there salvation and redemption.” Since that day, carried by generous hands and loving hearts, the Cross has made a long, uninterrupted pilgrimage across the continents, to demonstrate, as Pope John Paul II had said, “the Cross walks with young people and young people walk with the Cross.”

The memories of the World Youth Day 2002 Cross Pilgrimage throughout Canada continue to stir many hearts and evoke wonderful memories many years after the great pilgrimage began in our land on April 11, 2001. The WYD Cross literally touched the three oceans that border Canada. It visited our cities, towns, and rural areas, inviting throngs of people into the streets for processions, prayers, all-night vigils, tears, and moments of reconciliation, healing, and peace.

Such expressions of popular piety had been absent for far too many years from the Canadian ecclesial landscape. In the midst of the carefully orchestrated pilgrimage throughout the 72 dioceses of Canada, the Cross took a detour in February 2002, which was not part of the normal World Youth Day preparations in previous host countries. A convoy of buses left Toronto early on a cold Sunday morning, accompanied by representatives of Canadian police, ambulance, and fire fighters, and set out with the WYD Cross in tow for 48 hours in New York City.

After a Sunday evening Mass in Manhattan’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral with a Canadian Bishop, and an early morning Mass with the Vatican’s permanent observer at the United Nations, we carried the cross to Ground Zero, into the “pit,” to pray for the victims of the September 11th tragedies at the World Trade Centre and elsewhere throughout the United States. The visit, which received international media coverage, was a sign of hope, consolation, solidarity, and peace to the people of America and the entire world, struggling to understand the evil, terror, violence, and death-dealing forces that humanity experienced on September 11, 2001.

The journey into Ground Zero was for us a very public act of defiance and
courage. Six young people from the World Youth Day 2002 National Team
carried the large cross up to the special platform built for the families of the victims of the World Trade Centre tragedy. While they processed with the cross, the rest of us sang the Taizé refrain: “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.” As the cross was placed in its metal stand at the edge of the huge crater where the twin towers once stood, the singing grew louder. It was an act of defiance because there, in a place that spoke loudly of destruction, devastation, terror, and death, we raised up a wooden cross – an instrument of death that has been transformed into the central life-giving symbol of the Christian faith. The significance of the action was lost on no one.

Earlier that morning at Mass in the Church of the Saviour near the United
Nations, Archbishop Renato Martino, told us in his moving homily:

The Sacred Scriptures speak to us about sin, and the desperate need we all have for conversion. What you will see today when you visit Ground Zero is the consequence of sin: a crater of dirt and ashes, of human destruction and sorrow; a vestige of sin that is so evil that words could never suffice to explain it.

Nevertheless, it is never enough to talk about the effects of terrorism, the destruction it causes, or those who perpetrate it. We do a disservice to those who have died in this tragedy if we fail to search out the causes. In this search, a broad canvas of political, economic, social, religious, and cultural factors emerge. The common denominator in these factors is hate, a hate that transcends any one people or region. It is a hatred of humanity itself, and it kills even the one who hates.

The Cross of Jesus Christ blessed and marked World Youth Day 2002 in an
extraordinary fashion. Each catechetical site was graced by a replica of the World Youth Day Cross. It was present at each of the main ceremonies. It led our processions, called us to prayer and reflection, healed us, reconciled us, and touched our hearts. Its memory lingers among us several years later.

Who can ever forget the hauntingly beautiful images of the World Youth Day Cross leading over half a million people – mostly on their knees – in the Stations of the Cross on Friday evening, July 26, 2002: up Toronto’s majestic University Avenue, passing before its court houses, the American Consulate, Government Buildings, hospitals, the university, Provincial Parliament, and various museums? A principal street of a great city was transformed into a contemporary Via Dolorosa, while over a billion people watched the scenes of this modern-day passion play unfold via satellite and television.

On Saturday evening, July 27, 2002, during the Great Vigil of World Youth Day 2002, at a former military base that is now Toronto’s Downsview Park, Pope John Paul II begin his address to over 600,000 young people with these words:

The new millennium opened with two contrasting scenarios: one, the sight of multitudes of pilgrims coming to Rome during the Great Jubilee to pass through the Holy Door which is Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer; and the other, the terrible terrorist attack on New York, an image that is a sort of icon of a world in which hostility and hatred seem to prevail. The question that arises is dramatic: on what foundations must we build the new historical era that is emerging from the great transformations of the twentieth century?

During the closing Eucharistic celebration on Sunday, July 28, 2002, the
Holy Father presented to young pilgrims in the crowd of more than 850,000 people gathered with him small wooden crosses, hand made by young people living in the poorest barrios of Bogotá and Medellín in Colombia. We could have chosen many places to have these crosses made – but World Youth Day 2002 chose to have the crosses made in a land that has had its share of cross over the past years.

Because we follow a crucified Christ, we enter into solidarity with the world’s suffering masses. We experience the power and love of God through the vulnerable and suffering. The Cross teaches us that what could have remained hideous and beyond remembrance is transformed into beauty, hope, and a continuous call to heroic goodness.

At the conclusion of the closing Eucharistic liturgy, the elderly Pontiff told young people not to be afraid “to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross! At difficult moments in the Church’s life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent.” He invited his young friends to “learn from that cross.”

The feast of the Triumph or the Exaltation of the Cross originated in the
tradition that Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena, discovered the Cross on which Jesus died on September 14, 320 AD in Jerusalem. From very early on, the triumph attributed to the Cross functioned more within the “normal” understanding of triumph: namely, a victory won over another, achieved by violence of some sort. But is it not rather outrageous to speak of a cross as triumphant? The crucifixion of Jesus is the great, divine paradox. The Cross, an instrument of death, is transformed into our life-giving tree. Through the mystery of the Cross, Jesus crucified becomes our life and our light in the midst of death and darkness.

When all the commotion and frenzied activity of World Youth Day was over, I was convinced that one of the lasting memories that would remain in our country was that simple, wooden Cross, which was such a huge blessing and source of consolation, healing, strength, and peace to the hundreds of thousands of people who embraced it, touched it, kissed it, learned from it, and allowed themselves to be touched by the awesome message and memory of the One who died upon it.

To celebrate the Triumph of the Cross is to acknowledge the full, cruciform
achievement of Jesus’ career. Jesus asks us to courageously choose a life
similar to his own. Suffering cannot be avoided nor ignored by those who follow Christ. Following Jesus implies suffering and a cross. The mark of the Messiah is to become the mark of his disciples.

[The readings for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross are: Numbers 21:4-9; Philippians 2:6-11; and John 3:13-17.]

A Saint for Canada: John Paul II

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A Saint for Canada: John Paul II
Interview on Zenit International News Service

There are many lenses through which to view Pope St. John Paul II. A book released this year by Basilian Father Thomas Rosica proposes the Polish Pontiff as a “saint for Canada” (Novalis 2014).

ZENIT spoke with Fr. Rosica about his insights into the Pope and saint who loved Canada and was loved by Canadians.

ZENIT: Why is a Polish Pope a “saint for Canada?”

Father Rosica: Pope John Paul II was the first Pope to set foot on Canadian soil. It was the longest pastoral visit ever made by any Pope in a single country back in 1984 — 12 days. With his arrival on September 9 in the Quebec City suburb of Ste. Foy, the Holy Father began a 15,000-kilometre marathon that took him from the Atlantic to the Pacific. When the visit ended on September 20 that year, he had visited Quebec City, Trois-Rivières, Montreal, St. John’s, Moncton, Halifax, Toronto, Midland (Ontario), Winnipeg/St. Boniface, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Vancouver and Ottawa/Hull. In some of those cities, he visited major Canadian pilgrimage sites: Sainte-Anne de Beaupré, Cap-de-la-Madeleine, St. Joseph’s Oratory and the Canadian Martyrs Shrine in Midland. Millions of Canadians turned out to greet the pontiff, pray with him and to celebrate, many of them deeply moved by his words and presence. His visit left a deep and lasting impression on our country.

During that historic 1984 visit, John Paul II endeared himself to Canadians and from the very beginning, and Canadians loved him. That affection reached its peak in 2002 when he returned to us as an elderly, infirm man and presided over World Youth Day 2002, his last great international youth event. He made us all feel young again. Though I did not choose the title for the book “A Saint for Canada,” more than any pope, John Paul II was ours in a very special way!

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ZENIT: Tell us about Pope John Paul II’s relationship with the First Nations     (Native Communities) in Canada?

Father Rosica: In 1984, bad weather had forced the cancellation of a visit prepared for Fort Simpson in the Northwest Territories, where John Paul II was to meet with First Nations peoples. The pope felt so deeply sad about missing this visit with them that he promised to return. And he did, in 1987, when he spoke to Aboriginal peoples gathered from across the North. His reverence for the First Nations peoples and compassion for their history of suffering helped change the way Canadians viewed their own troubled relationship with their Aboriginal sisters and brothers.

ZENIT: What was it like to know a saint personally?

Father Rosica: I think I visited with Pope John Paul II five times before I was appointed to World Youth Day 2002, at least 12 times in preparation for World Youth Day 2002 and six times following World Youth Day and prior to his death in 2005. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, gave a great emphasis to holiness, and the call to holiness extended to everyone. And it’s very important that we see this call embodied in a person’s life. John Paul II was a man who was in constant dialogue with God. He was the pope of holiness. I knew that there was something extraordinary about this man. It was pretty clear that he lived with God, and he lived with us. Whenever I spoke with him, I knew that I was talking with someone who was a friend of God. Each time I was with him, and for that matter each time I am with a holy person, I go away from that encounter with a deep desire to pray, to spend more time with God, and to be a better person. I think one of the great qualities of holy persons is that they give us a “holy jealousy” – making the rest of us thirst for God, desire to be holy and to be a better people.

ZENIT: You mention a theory for why young people had such a great love for John Paul II. What is that?

Father Rosica: John Paul II enjoyed an incredible popularity with young Catholics. At the World Youth Day in Rome in 2000, he called the young people of the world his “joy and his crown”. In July 2002 in Toronto, he showed us the same. Young people today are experiencing an extreme crisis of fatherhood. I am convinced that they flocked to him because in many cases he was the father they never had and the grandfather who had been so painfully absent in their lives. John Paul II was a rock, a moral compass, and a very demanding friend. He made all of us discover our youthfulness, generosity and joy as he invited us to become salt and light in a world, a society and a culture that is so cynical, so tasteless and so often devoid of the flavor and joy of the Gospel and the light and hope of Christ.

From the beginning of his Pontificate, he insisted on meeting young people whenever he visited Roman parishes or foreign countries. Building on a tradition begun by his predecessor, Paul VI in the twilight years of his reign (1976), John Paul II invited hoards of young people to Rome in 1984 for the Jubilee Year of the Redemption, and in March 1985 for the International Year of Youth, when, on Palm Sunday, he established World Youth Days as a permanent event. “No one invented the World Youth Days. It was the young people themselves who created them”, John Paul II wrote in his 1994 book, Crossing The Threshold of Hope. In actual fact, he first sought them out; they then discovered him. Most of the World Youth Days, including ours in Canada, have been something of a surprise for priests and bishops, in that they surpassed all our expectations!

John Paul II issued to young people a clarion call to commitment. To his young friends he said: “Many and enticing are the voices that call out to you from all sides: many of these voices speak to you of a joy that can be had with money, success, and power. Mostly they propose a joy that comes with the superficial and fleeting pleasure of the senses.” The alternative call was Jesus’ siren song. “He calls you to be the salt and light of the world, to live in justice, to become instruments of love and peace.” The choice was stark, self-denying, life-defining, irrevocable. It was between, “good and evil, between light and darkness, between life and death.” There were no shortcuts or compromises for John Paul II, only clarity. And that is what the young are seeking today, not quick answers but Gospel clarity.

How many people are not afraid anymore because they saw a Pope who was not afraid. How many young seminarians and religious have spoken their “yes” because of him! How many young couples have made permanent commitments in marriage because of his profound theology of the body! How many ordinary people have done extraordinary things because of his influence, his teaching and his gestures!

ZENIT: John Paul II wrote and preached volumes. Even in focusing on a specific element, such as his ministry to Canada, how does one begin to digest or sort through such a huge body of teaching and a powerful message?

Father Rosica: Pope John Paul II tirelessly travelled the world, bringing to women and men of every race, nation and culture, a message of hope; that human dignity is rooted in the fact that each human being is created in the image and likeness of God. The Holy Father’s courageous and steadfast witness to the power of the Risen Lord has been the hallmark of his Pontificate– in which he has opened wide the doors of many human hearts and of many nations to Christ. By his witness and preaching of the Catholic faith, the Holy Father has had a great part in changing the course of history. The body of teaching that he left us is staggering- immense, accessible, rich and transforming. It is now up to us to unpack the gift of his teaching and appropriate it in our lives.

The challenge to the Church in Canada, and for that matter to the Church in each country, is to deepen its relationship with the living communion of faith of the whole Church. Canada has much from its experience to offer to the universal Church – about tolerance, peace, social justice, a significant, rich heritage of Saints and Blesseds who brought us the faith. That is the mission of the Church in Canada as well. We cannot forget the deeply Christian roots and heritage of this country. This is not only a religious question but also of an anthropological order since human identity cannot be separated or divorced from its Christian identity. In an increasingly secularised world the place and role of religion in our cultural identity must be re-evaluated and re-vitalised. There can be no future without a past. Our present has been formed by a Christian heritage handed down to us; will future generations to come have a similar Christian heritage to hand on?

ZENIT: John Paul II is now set before us as a saint, as someone to emulate. Yet, how can one imitate someone as other-worldy as John Paul II?

Father Rosica: That a person is declared “Blessed” or “Saint” is not a statement about perfection. It does not mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Nor is it a 360-degree evaluation of the Pontificate or of the Vatican. Beatification and Canonization mean that a person lived his or her life with God, relying totally on God’s infinite mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. That person lets those around him know that there is a force or spirit animating his or her life that is not of this world, but the next. Such a person lets us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and shows us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth. Canonization and holiness is not some kind of perfection that erases all kinds of faults and errors. The first requirement to be a saint in the Church is you have to be a sinner – but a sinner who recognizes the power of God’s mercy and forgiveness, and lives in that experience.

One of the most profound lessons John Paul II taught us in the twilight of his pontificate was that everyone must suffer, even the Vicar of Christ. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, he let the whole world see what he went through. The passing of John Paul II did not take place in private, but before television cameras and the whole world. In the final act of his life, the athlete was immobilized; the distinctive, booming voice silenced; the hand that produced voluminous encyclicals no longer able to write. John Paul II’s final homily was an icon of his Galilean Master’s final words to Simon Peter:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” … After this [Jesus] said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19)

In the life of Karol Wojytyla, the boy from Wadowice who would grow up to be a priest and Bishop of Krakow, the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for the ages, holiness was contagious. We have all been touched and changed by it. Pope John Paul II was not only “Holy Father” but “a Father who was and is Holy.” At his funeral mass on April 8, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the world that the Holy Father was watching us and blessing us ‘from the window of the Father’s House.”

Let us learn from this great, contemporary saint how to cross thresholds, open doors, build bridges, embrace the Cross of suffering and proclaim the Gospel of Life to the people of our time. May we learn how to live, to suffer and die unto the Lord. Let us pray to have a small portion of the fidelity of Peter’s witness and the boldness of Paul’s proclamation that were so mightily present in Karol Wojtyla – St. John Paul II. May he intercede for us and for all those who suffer in body and spirit, and give us the desire to become holy and to be saints.

In his homily at the Beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI summarized beautifully Karol Wojtyla’s life of holiness:

“… When Karol Wojtyla ascended to the throne of Peter, he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man. This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man. With this message, which is the great legacy of the Second Vatican Council and of its ‘helmsman’, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, John Paul II led the People of God across the threshold of the Third Millennium, which thanks to Christ he was able to call ‘the threshold of hope’.

Throughout the long journey of preparation for the great Jubilee he directed Christianity once again to the future, the future of God, which transcends history while nonetheless directly affecting it. He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an “Advent” spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace. …

“Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed! Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God’s people. You often blessed us in this Square from the Apostolic Palace: Bless us, Holy Father! Amen.”

And on April 27 of this year, Pope Francis said of John Paul II:

“They (Wojtyla and Roncalli – John XXIII) were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.

…In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.”

ZENIT: From your continued work with the Holy See Press Office, as well as your work at Salt and Light, you have a unique perspective on the global response to (or interaction with) the Successor of Peter. As two Popes were just canonized, another is to be canonized, and as a Pope Emeritus and a reigning Pope live side-by-side in the Vatican, what overall reflections do you have about God’s ways in ruling his Church through the Bishops of Rome?

Father Rosica: It has been a tremendous, most unexpected privilege and a blessing to work closely with the Vatican during these momentous weeks, and years, especially over the past years of the momentous papal transition. What a lesson this has been in seeing the ministry of the Bishop of Rome up close! Having led a World Youth Day and served at two Synods of Bishops- in 2008 on the “Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” and in 2012 on “The New Evangelization”, I thought that I had reached the summit of any great projects I could serve in the Church! I was wrong! When Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Director of the Holy See Press Offices called me the day after Benedict’s resignation and asked me to come immediately to Rome, a new adventure began that continues to this day. For me, personally, Fr. Lombardi represents the religious communicator par excellence: intelligence, decency, kindness, patience, goodness and calm! I have learned much from him and admire him greatly.

People constantly ask me where I did my media training and film studies. I smile and tell them that I don’t even watch TV and I see few movies. I studied Scripture at the University of Toronto, at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, the Ecole Biblique et Arcéhologique Française de Jérusalem, and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I learned about ancient texts, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic verbs, and things of the past. I never studied filmmaking, media, public relations, and all the other hi-tech things that are now part of my new world.

But I also tell them that I had the privilege of having a master and mentor who knew the power of words and images, and who taught me everything I know about television, media, and Evangelization. It was a character study of nearly 27 years… a master class that I never sought out and certainly never deserved. That mentor is now a saint: Karol Wojtyla – John Paul II.

It is hardly any surprise then, in this world of faith and in the culture of the Church, that one of the first fruits of World Youth Day 2002, should be the establishment of a national, Catholic television network, truly born on the wings of World Youth Day 2002 – the project that was the driving force of my mentor’s life. This little book is merely a way of saying thanks to him.

To order your copy of “John Paul II: A Saint for Canada” visit:

http://saltandlighttv.org/store/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=180

Fr. Rosica may be reached at rosica@saltandlighttv.org

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, was National Director and CEO of World Youth Day 2002 in Canada. He is founder and CEO of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network since 2003. Appointed by Pope Benedict as Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, he served as English language Media Attaché at the Synods of Bishops of 2008 and 2012. He has been English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office since the Papal transition of 2013.

A Saint for Canada: John Paul II
Fr. Rosica Speaks About Knowing a Saint Personally and Why Youth Loved John Paul So Much
Part 1 published June 24, 2014

Father Rosica Speaks About Living This Unique Time of the Papacy From the View of the Vatican Press Office
Part 2 published June 25, 2014

 

World Youth Day 2002

World Youth Day 2002

June 3 – 51st Anniversary of Death of St. John XXIII (Angelo Roncalli)

Rome incorrupt

June 3 this year marks the 51st anniversary of death of St. John XXIII. Beatified in June 2000 by one of his successors, St. John Paul II, Pope John XXIII’s feast day has been established not on the date of his death, June 3, but rather on October 11, the opening day of the Second Vatican Council. Pope John XXIII was canonized on April 27, 2014 in the same ceremony which proclaimed John Paul II a saint. John XXIII’s canonization was approved by Pope Francis, without the customary second miracle normally required for sainthood.

On his anniversary of death, let us call to mind his now famous Daily Decalogue. I love the practicality of these ten resolutions and if we should choose to make them our own, our lives will be joyful and holy:

1) Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.

2) Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behaviour; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.

3) Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.

4) Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.

5) Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.

6) Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.

7) Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.

8) Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.

9) Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.

10) Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

Vatican Connections: Friday May 2, 2014

This week we look at the historic double canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII which was concelebrated by Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Fr. Thomas Rosica and Sebastian Gomes share some of their experiences from this time, and we bring you the latest papal happenings.

Vatican II: Theme of Canonizations

The Day of the 4 Popes

Salt and Light Founder, Producer, Reflect on Significance of the ‘Day of the Four Popes’

Rome,  (Zenit.org) Ann Schneible

Although the massive crowds which filled the city of Rome for Sunday’s canonization of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II have all but returned home, faithful Catholics continue to reflect on the lives of holiness demonstrated by these two leaders of the Church.

One of the reoccurring themes in the lead up to the event was the Second Vatican Council, notably because of the canonization of Saint John XXIII, who opened the council, although did not live to see its completion. Saint John Paul II, meanwhile, has often been referred to as the interpreter of the council documents. Also noted was the witness given by the two living successors of these newly-declared saints – Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis – and their role in continuing the legacy of the council.

“I see a lot of the story of the Council being involved in [Sunday’s] celebration,” said Fr. Thomas Rosica, founder of Canada’s Salt and Light Network, and English language spokesman in the lead up to the canonizations: “[John XXIII], the dreamer who launched the idea; [John Paul II], the great authoritative interpreter and teacher; the theologian who helped us to remember what the council was about in the person of Benedict; and the person of Francis who’s telling us to make sure we keep the flame alive for the right reasons and put it into practice. I see a real continuity with these four people.”

Years after the death of John XXIII, Fr. Rosica said, it fell to “John Paul II, that young firebrand bishop who was present at the council… to really go deep into those documents and to give meaning to them about the lay people, about religious, about bishops”.

Benedict’s role, he added, focused largely on “continuity and discontinuity” during his papacy.

“Benedict helped us to remember the roots of the council, and did some very beautiful theological reflections on the Council, especially his first talk to the Roman Curia in 2005, that famous talk which set the agenda for the pontificate”.

“It’s one thing to dream, it’s another thing to implement, but it’s also another thing to keep the theology alive,” Fr. Rosica added.

“The beauty of Pope Francis is to make sure we’re keeping it alive for the right reasons,” and that the Council is “gift that is still being unpacked, still a work in progress”.

The decision to canonize John XXIII and John Paul II together, moreover, was significant.

“I think the great lesson that Francis was teaching us in putting these canonizations together was a lesson of unity, of unity for the church,” said Salt and Light producer Sebastian Gomes.

“By canonizing them together, it’s a powerful statement about who we are as Catholics, what the church represents. But… it’s the full stamp of approval, not only on John’s holiness, but on the council, and what that meant, and what that represented for the Church.”

Gomes recalled the video message delivered by Cardinal Loris Capovilla: “He made the very powerful statement that the Second Vatican Council was not only a moment for the Church but a moment for the whole world”.

“There are some very deep and important lessons that not only we Catholics have to learn about ourselves and about how we relate to the world, but about the world as a whole and the human family. That was all John’s doing. He didn’t really control the council: his great gift to the council was to kind of step back and let the bishops of the world speak openly and honestly about what they thought. The documents and the history of the council attest to that”.

John XXIII recognized that “we cannot be a Church of condemnation,” Gomes added. “We have to be a Church of mercy, hope, and joy, and outreach, and dialogue. Those tenants of John, and of the Council, are so badly needed today that it’s very important for us not to forget them.”

Pope Francis’ Homily for the Canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II

Here below is the full text in English of Pope Francis’ homily at the mass of Canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII:

At the heart of this Sunday, which concludes the Octave of Easter and which John Paul II wished to dedicate to Divine Mercy, are the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus.

He had already shown those wounds when he first appeared to the Apostles on the very evening of that day following the Sabbath, the day of the resurrection.  But Thomas was not there that evening, and when the others told him that they had seen the Lord, he replied that unless he himself saw and touched those wounds, he would not believe.  A week later, Jesus appeared once more to the disciples gathered in the Upper Room, and Thomas was present; Jesus turned to him and told him to touch his wounds.  Whereupon that man, so straightforward and accustomed to testing everything personally, knelt before Jesus with the words: “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28).

The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith.  That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us.  They are essential for believing in God.  Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness.  Saint Peter, quoting Isaiah, writes to Christians: “by his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24, cf. Is 53:5).

John XXIII and John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side.  They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother (cf. Is 58:7), because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles.  These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.

They were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century.  They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them.  For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.

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 (1 Pet 1:3,8).  The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them.  The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice.  Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the People of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.

This hope and this joy were palpable in the earliest community of believers, in Jerusalem, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 2:42-47).  It was a community which lived the heart of the Gospel, love and mercy, in simplicity and fraternity.

This is also the image of the Church which the Second Vatican Council set before us.  John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries.  Let us not forget that it is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church.  In convening the Council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit.  He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader.  This was his great service to the Church; he was the pope of openness to the Spirit.

In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family.  He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family.  I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.

May these two new saints and shepherds of God’s people intercede for the Church, so that during this two-year journey toward the Synod she may be open to the Holy Spirit in pastoral service to the family.  May both of them teach us not to be scandalized by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves.

Holy Popes! Significance of the Canonization of John XXIII & John Paul II

John XIII John Paul II Official Photos
Theories abound as to why Pope Francis decided to canonize both John XXIII and John Paul II on April 27. Some imagine that this was a politically strategic move on the part of Francis to unify a divided Church and to reconcile the divisions that exist among the Roncalli fans and bearers of the “spirit of Vatican II” and the Wojtyla disciples of a robust, doctrinaire Pope. They reduce the lives of these two great men to be the adventures of a progressive pope who dreamed up the Council and a conservative pope who put the brakes on the speed of its implementation. Nothing could be further from the truth, and such thoughts usually reflect the machinations of those who have yet to understand the Petrine Ministry of unity and the Call to Holiness that lies at the foundation of our existence as Catholic Christians.

The church doesn’t beatify or canonize people and use them as banners or standards under which groups can assemble and march, nor does she ever raise up for us role models who are arrows or weapons to attack others for ignorance, error and sin. Rather, the church offers the lives of outstanding women and men such as Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla to present to us models of holiness.

Yes, John will be forever linked to the dream and convocation of the Ecumenical Council we now know as Vatican II, and John Paul II will be forever linked to a new era of a truly global Church that took its message from the home office on the Tiber to the ends of the earth.

But even more than those historical factors, John XXIII and John Paul II modeled for us the call to holiness and reminded us, by the simplicity and joy of their Gospel-rooted lives, that we, too, are called to be saints. The Church is the “home of holiness,” and holiness is our most accurate image, our authentic calling card and our greatest gift to the world. It describes best who and what we are and strive to be.

That a person is declared “Blessed” or “Saint” is not a statement about perfection. It does not mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Nor is it a 360-degree evaluation of a particular pontificate or of the Vatican. Beatification and canonization mean that a person lived his or her life with God, relying totally on God’s infinite mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. That person lets those around him or her know that there is a force or spirit animating his or her life that is not of this world, but of the next. Such a person lets us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and shows us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth.

Angelo Roncalli was a man of international reach before he was pope. His preparation for the papacy was international in scope. He worked at the peripheries of Roman Catholicism, meeting with grace and peace the hostile challenges of both Orthodox Christianity and Islam, long before the buzz words of ecumenism or interreligious dialogue were the order of the day. Roncalli’s mission was personal, human; he excelled in using his own, innate common sense, understanding, and warmth so mightily evident to all and his priestly ministry flowed from his deep humanity.

From the very beginning of his priestly, episcopal and Petrine ministry, Roncalli taught us to see goodness in others, to love people and to hope beyond all hope when situations indicated otherwise. He won over the world, in many similar ways that Pope Francis is doing now because of his unabashed simplicity and genuine goodness and humor. He showed us that far more than realizing every project and program, we must dream bold dreams, nurture them, and hand them on to future generations.

In the life of Karol Wojtyla, holiness was contagious. Pope John Paul II was not only our Holy Father, but a Father who was and is holy. On April 2, 2005, he died a public death that stopped the world for several days. When the throngs of people began chanting “Santo Subito!” at the end of Pope John Paul II’s funeral mass on April 8, 2005, what were they really saying? They were crying out that in Karol Wojtyla, they saw someone who lived with God and lived with us. He was a sinner who experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness. He was the prophetic teacher who preached the Word in season and out of season. He looked at us, loved us, touched us, healed us and gave us hope. He taught us not to be afraid. He showed us how to live, how to love, how to forgive and how to die. He taught us how to embrace the cross in the most excruciating moments of life, knowing that the cross was not God’s final answer.

Both men have deeply marked my entire life. I was born the year the Second Vatican Council was called and it has been the wind beneath my wings for my entire life, especially in my 28 years of ordained ministry. I had the privilege of working closely with Pope John Paul II on his last World Youth Day in 2002.

I am convinced that both men were gifts of God to the world at very specific moments in history. They also remind me that the Lord provides for the Church the shepherds we need at the right moments. That they receive the highest honor of my Church on the same day is a statement to the world of two important realities: that the Church’s best calling card is still holiness. And second: that Vatican II was their dream, their life’s work, their vision and their gift to the world. The world is a better place because Angelo Roncalli and Karol Wojtyla handed their dream on to us.


Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB is the CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Television Network, Canada and the English language assistant to Holy See Press Office.

The Suffering and Death of a Shepherd

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Good Friday – Friday, April 18, 2014

For our Good Friday Reflection this year, and in preparation for the Canonization of Blessed Pope John Paul II next Sunday, April 27, 2014, I have chosen to share with you the this reflection on what Pope John Paul II taught us at the end of his life. I cannot celebrate Good Friday without remembering Pope John Paul II, especially his final Good Friday on earth in 2005. This reflection is part of a major address I gave at the Knights of Columbus Museum in New Haven, Connecticut, for the opening of the special exhibit, “Blessed,” that commemorates the life of this great man. 

On Human Suffering

One of the beautiful and not frequently cited writings of John Paul II was his 1984 apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris, “On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering.” The late Pope, following the Apostle Paul and the entire Catholic Tradition, maintained throughout his life that it is precisely in suffering that Christ displayed his solidarity with humanity, and in which we can grow in solidarity with Christ, who is our life.

In Salvifici Doloris suffering is the consequence of sin, and Christ embraces that consequence, rather than repudiating it. By embracing suffering, he shares fully in it, he takes the consequence of sin into and onto himself. He does this out of love for us, not simply because he wants to redeem us, but because he wants to be with us, to share what we share, to experience what we experience. And it is this shared love, this shared suffering in love, which completes and perfects the relationship broken in sin, and so redeems us.

Pope John Paul II taught us that the meaning of suffering is fundamentally changed by the Incarnation. Apart from the Incarnation, suffering is the consequence of sin. It offers opportunities for insight into oneself, for personal growth, and for demonstrating practical love for others, but these are incidental. Because of the Incarnation, however, we become sharers in the Body of Christ. Our suffering becomes his suffering, and becomes an expression of redeeming love.

Because he was the leader of a billion Roman Catholics; because he was the first pontiff of the satellite and Internet age, reaching out to billions more, and because he was John Paul II, who has ruled the church for more than 26 years—in that public experience of suffering was found enormous power. And that he certainly knew. In 1981, after recovering from the gunshot wound that almost took his life in St. Peter’s Square, John Paul declared that suffering, as such, is one of the most powerful messages in Christianity.

During the final years of his pontificate, John Paul II brought suffering back into the realm of the expected in human life. Everyone could see that his spirituality gave him an inner strength – a spirituality with which one can also overcome fear, even the fear of death. What an incredible lesson for the world! His struggle with the physical effects of aging was also a valuable lesson to a society that finds it hard to accept growing older, and a culture that sees no redemption in suffering. 

In 1994, as age and infirmity began to incapacitate John Paul publicly, he told his followers he had heard God and was about to change the way he led the church. “I must lead her with suffering,” he said. “The pope must suffer so that every family and the world should see that there is, I would say, a higher gospel: the gospel of suffering, with which one must prepare the future.”

A consoling letter to his peers

In 1999, in preparation for the Great Jubilee, Pope John Paul II published his “Letter to the Elderly.” Following his Letters to the young in 1985, to families in 1994, to children in 1994, to women in 1995 and to artists in 1999 year – and not counting those Letters that he wrote each year to priests on Holy Thursday, since the beginning of his pontificate, he wrote deeply moving and encouraging words to his peers in the Letter to the Elderly. He had no fear in placing before the eyes of the world the limits and frailties that the years placed upon him. He did nothing to disguise them. In speaking to young people, he has no difficulty in saying of himself: ‘I am an old priest’.” John Paul II “continued to fulfill his mission as the Successor of Peter, looking far ahead with the enthusiasm of the only youth that does not deteriorate, that of the spirit, which this Pope maintains intact. The letter had a very personal, almost confidential, tone and was not an analysis of old age. Rather, it was a very intimate dialogue between people of the same generation.

“The passage of time,” wrote the Pope in that memorable letter, “helps us to see our experiences in a clearer light and softens their painful side.” Moreover, he says, the daily difficulties can be eased with God’s help. In addition, “we are consoled by the thought that, by virtue of our spiritual souls, we will survive beyond death.”

“Guardians of shared memory” was the title of the one part of the Pope’s Letter. Pointing out that “in the past, great respect was shown to the elderly,” the Pope remarks that this is still true in many cultures today, “while among others, this is much less the case, due to a mentality which gives priority to immediate human usefulness and productivity.” He wrote: “It has come to the point where euthanasia is increasingly put forward as a solution for difficult situations. Unfortunately, in recent years the idea of euthanasia has lost for many people the sense of horror which it naturally awakens in those who have a sense of respect for life.”

The Pope added: “Here it should be kept in mind that the moral law allows the rejection of ‘aggressive medical treatment’ and makes obligatory only those forms of treatment which fall within the normal requirements of medical care, which in the case of terminal illness seeks primarily to alleviate pain. But euthanasia, understood as directly causing death, is another thing entirely. Regardless of intentions and circumstances, euthanasia is always an intrinsically evil act, a violation of God’s law and an offense against the dignity of the human person.”

Pope John Paul II continued in that letter: “Man has been made for life, whereas death … was not a part of God’s original plan but came about as a consequence of sin.” “However rationally comprehensible death may be from a biological standpoint, it is not possible to experience it as something ‘natural’.” We ask ourselves, he says here, “What is on the other side of the shadowy wall of death?” The answer comes from faith “which illuminates the mystery of death and brings serenity to old age, now no longer lived passively as the expectation of a calamity, but rather as a promise-filled approach to the goal of full maturity.” 

Pope John Paul’s Letter to the Elderly closed with a section entitled “An encouragement to live life to the full.” He writes: “I feel a spontaneous desire to share fully with you my own feelings at this point of my life, after more than twenty years of ministry on the throne of Peter. … Despite the limitations brought on by age I continue to enjoy life. For this I thank the Lord. It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the Kingdom of God! “At the same time,” he concludes, “I find great peace in thinking about the time when the Lord will call me: from life to life! … ‘Bid me to come to you’: this is the deepest yearning of the human heart, even in those who are not conscious of it.” What a magnificent signature piece of Pope John Paul II! He not only wrote the letter but enacted it in his own life. We were eyewitnesses.

The public suffering

Pope John Paul II taught us that life is sacred, no matter how painful his own life became for him. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, Pope John Paul II let the whole world see what he went through. The suffering and dying of this Pope did not take place in private, but before television cameras and the whole world. In the final act of his life, the athlete was immobilized, the distinctive, booming voice silenced, and the hand that produced voluminous encyclicals no longer able to write. John Paul II’s final homily was an icon of his Galilean Master’s final words to Simon Peter: “Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” …After this he [Jesus] said to him, “Follow me” [John 21:18-19].

Many Catholics and non-Christians saw the pope’s suffering as something like the agony of Jesus himself, and neither John Paul nor those around him discourage such comparisons. When asked a few years ago if he might consider resigning, John Paul reportedly asked, in reply, “Did Christ come down from the cross?” His close aides say that debate about his ability to administer the church, as if he were the CEO of a secular corporation, essentially misses the point. This pope is not doing a job, he is carrying out a divine mission, and his pain is at its core.

That final Good Friday evening

One of my most vivid memories from the last week of our late Holy Father Pope John Paul II’s life was during the Way of the Cross on Good Friday evening in 2005, in which he participated by watching the service at the Coliseum in his chapel on television. The television camera in his chapel was behind him so that he would not be distracted from taking part in this ceremony in which he always took part personally. Then-Archbishop John Foley was doing the television commentary in English from Rome, reading the very provocative meditations prepared by a certain Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

At one point toward the end of the Way of the Cross, someone put a rather large crucifix on the knee of the Holy Father, and he was gazing lovingly at the figure of Jesus. At the words, “Jesus Dies on the Cross,” Pope John Paul drew the crucifix to himself and embraced it. I will never forget that scene. What an incredibly powerful homily without words! Like Jesus, Pope John Paul II embraced the cross; in fact, he embraced the crucifix of Jesus Christ on Good Friday night.

The death of a patriarch

Several hours before his death, Pope John Paul’s last audible words were: “Let me go to the house of the Father.” In the intimate setting of prayer, as Mass was celebrated at the foot of his bed and the throngs of faithful sang below in St. Peter’s Square, he died at 9:37 p.m. on April 2. Through his public passion, suffering and death, this holy priest, Successor of the Apostles, and Servant of God, showed us the suffering face of Jesus in a remarkable way.

The Pope of Holiness

Karol Wojtyla himself was an extraordinary witness who, through his devotion, heroic efforts, long suffering and death, communicated the powerful message of the Gospel to the men and women of our day. A great part of the success of his message is due to the fact that he has been surrounded by a tremendous cloud of witnesses who stood by him and strengthened him throughout his life. For John Paul II, the call to holiness excludes no one; it is not the privilege of a spiritual elite.

“Lumen Gentium,” the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council notes that the holiness of Christians flows from that of the Church and manifests it. It says that holiness “is expressed in many ways by the individuals who, each in his own state of life, tend to the perfection of love, thus sanctifying others” (LG 39). In this variety “one and the same holiness is cultivated by all, who are moved by the Spirit of God…and follow the poor Christ, the humble and cross bearing Christ in order to be worthy of being sharers in his glory” (LG 41). 

When the throngs of people began chanting “Santo Subito” at the end of the Pope’s funeral mass on April 8, 2005, what were they really chanting? They were crying out that in Karol Wojtyla, they saw someone who lived with God and lived with us. He was a sinner who experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness. He was the prophetic teacher who preached the word in season and out of season. He looked at us, loved us, touched us, healed us and gave us hope. He taught us not to be afraid. He showed us how to live, how to love, how to forgive and how to die. He taught us how to embrace the cross in the most excruciating moments of life, knowing that the cross was not God’s final answer.

That a person is declared a “Saint” is not a statement about perfection. It does not mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Nor is it a 360-degree evaluation of the Pontificate or of the Vatican. Canonization means that a person lived his or her life with God, relying totally on God’s infinite mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. That person lets those around him know that there is a force or spirit animating his or her life that is not of this world, but the next. Such a person lets us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and shows us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth.

In the life of Karol Wojtyla, the boy from Wadowice who would grow up to be a priest and Bishop of Krakow, the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for the ages, holiness was contagious. We have all been touched and changed by it. Pope John Paul II was not only “Holy Father” but “a Father who was and is Holy.” At his funeral mass on April 8, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the world that the Holy Father was watching us and blessing us “from the window of the Father’s House.”

As we prepare for the Canonization of this great shepherd and holy priest and bishop on Sunday April 27, 2014, may we learn from “Papa Wojtyla” how to cross thresholds, open doors, build bridges, embrace the Cross of suffering and proclaim the Gospel of Life to the people of our time. May we learn how to live, to suffer and die unto the Lord. Let us pray to have a small portion of the fidelity of Peter’s witness and the boldness of Paul’s proclamation that were so mightily present in Karol Wojtyla – Saint John Paul II. May he intercede for us and for all those who suffer in body and spirit, and give us the desire to help carry one another’s crosses, to grow in holiness and to become saints. 

[The readings for Good Friday are: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; and John 18:1-19:42.]

This reflection first appeared on the Zenit International News Service in 2011 as well as on the Salt + Light Blog. The complete collection of reflections for Year B, entitled “Words made Flesh,” is now available in book form through our online store. Book editions for Year A and C reflections are coming soon.

Are we too preoccupied with the new evangelization?

One of the first times that I heard the phrase “the new evangelization” was in John Paul II’s Apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (at the close of the Great Jubilee of 2000):

Over the years, I have often repeated the summons to the new evangelization. I do so again now, especially in order to insist that we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul, who cried out: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (NMI 40).

It seems to me that the Holy Father was calling us to this new evangelization and that in order to do it effectively, he was giving us a pastoral plan. But today, everyone is speaking about the new evangelization. Pope Benedict created a Pontifical council for the new evangelisation and right here at S+L we’ve even created a whole series, The Church Alive, on the major themes of the new evangelization. But, are we putting all our eggs in the new evangelization basket? Are we making too much of this strategy? Are we too preoccupied with the new evangelisation?

That’s the question we’re asking this week on Perspectives: The Weekly Edition. Join me as I speak with Marcel Dion, from Magnificat Ministries  about how to best go about the work of evangelization.

The canonization of John XXIII in the context of Vatican II

VCII picIn a recent interview with ZENIT, Salt and Light’s Sebastian Gomes reflected on the significance of Pope John’s upcoming canonization in the context of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Vatican II.  What does “the Good Pope’s” canonization mean for a generation of Catholics who came of age long after the Council closed?  Read the full interview here:
John XXIII and Vatican II: Salt and Light Producer Weighs In on Canonization of Pope Who Opened Council