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."