NO doubt the canonizations of John XXIII and John Paul II were historic and unprecedented. Of the 266 successors of Peter, only 78 so far have been raised to the honors of the altar. The closest is Pius X who was canonized in 1954; the next would be centuries down to the 1700s.
But more than this, the formal declaration of their heroic virtues were affirmations of how they “have cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the church.” Says Catholic chronicler Rocco Palmo, “…the joint ratification that John XXIII and John Paul II now life in the Father’s House doesn’t merely validate the verdict of the sensus fidelium on the holiness of their lives: it represents the ultimate recognition of their respective roles as the twin architects of the modern papacy.”
A diplomat but a cheerful Italian, Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was 76 when he succeeded the deceased Pope Pius XII on October 28, 1958. He assumed the name Pope John XXIII but was perceived to be an interim pontiff who would maintain the status quo and sustain an entrenched bureaucracy to preserved things as they were during the reign of his predecessor. He was elected on the 11th ballot and some even touted him as an “accidental pope”. But they were wrong. Three months into his assumption of the Petrine ministry he announced the convening of an ecumenical council—the 20th in Catholic Church’s history—and formed a Theological Commission to layout the ground work of the Second Vatican Council; the French Dominican Yves Congar who wrote earlier the “Lay People in the Church, was foremost among them. On October 11, 1962, he formally opened the “Concilium Oecumenicum Vaticanum Secundum” and begun his “aggiornamento” where he courageously opened the “windows of the Church to let the fresh air of the Spirit blow through.”
In his homily during the canonization rites, Pope Francis said: “In convening the Council, Saint 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, guided by the Holy Spirit. This was his great service to the Church; for this reason I like to think of him as the the pope of openness to the Holy Spirit.” It was this ecumenical council that substantially changed the church and, in one perspective, the world. It would be difficult to imagine where the whole Christendom be today without St. John’s Vatican II.
Pope John Paul II was a creation of the Second Vatican Council. He saw to it that the “aggiornamento” of John XXIII would be felt in all facets of Christian life. The renewal envisioned by the ecumenical council blossomed in John Paul II even unto the “new springtime of Christian life” across the threshold of the complexities of the next millennium.
So much has been done by these great men for the renewal of the Church and of the world. “They were priests, and 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,” said Pope Francis at their canonization.