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The Canonization of two Popes of our time

| by Victor Cherubim

( April 25, 2014, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) To state clearly that adoration and worship is only given to God, but honour and humble reverence is paid to saints, is no cliché. Without going into any theology, I wish to explore how the two Popes, John XXIII and John Paul II have come into prominence in my time. Besides, being elevated as saints by Pope Francis on 27 April 2014, both Popes have illuminated the world that I lived in and have helped to change it. Saints are human; our concept of sainthood too has changed.

Mgr. P.E.Hallet, in “Canonization of Saints,” sums up the Church’s position: 

“The pagan superstition claimed to confer divinity upon men, a claim abhorrent to Catholics and, indeed philosophically impossible. In all that we shall have to say about canonization, we shall presuppose knowledge of the Catholic doctrine upon the subordinate position of the saints. They are creatures and can never be otherwise, but they are the glorified members of Christ’s Mystical Body, that is the Church and as such are to be honoured by us and in return are able to help us by their powerful intercession.” Do we have to greet them as saints only because they perform miracles?

Who are Saints?

Veneration of saints is a universal phenomenon. Historians of religion have liberated the category of sainthood from its narrow Christian associations and have employed the term in a more general way, to the “state of special holiness.”

“A Buddhist can attain “Nibbana” which is closely identified with spiritual knowledge on the one hand and on the other, with renunciation of the world.” In Buddhism, “arahant or bodhisattva is an attainment, possible only on renunciation.”

There is no formal canonization process in Hinduism, but over time many men and women have reached sainthood and have are variously called “gurus,””sadhus,” “rishis” and swamis. Some Hindu saints are incarnations of Vishu, Shiva and other manifestations or aspects of God. Unlike in the Christian tradition, they can be living or dead.

In the Roman Catholic Church, a person proposed for canonization should have lived and died (used to be at least 5 years after death, now dispensed) and such person(s) have to satisfy a process of four steps: 1.Servant of God 2. Venerable 3. Blessed and 4.Saint; it implies that they may be publicly invoked and mentioned officially in the liturgy of the Church, especially in the Litany of the Saints.”

The Eastern Orthodox Churches grants official recognition to someone as a saint on “glorification.” Glorification has several meanings. “The theological doctrine of glorification goes on to describe how believers will be resurrected after death and given new bodies that have a degree of continuity with their mortal selves.”

Pope John XXIII (1958-1963)

I can recall how much Pope John XXIII meant to me as a young man studying in the United States, Born Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli, Pope John XXIII held office for only 4 years 7 months, but in my opinion remains one of the most popularly beloved Popes in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, not only by Catholics but also by non Catholics. He had spent 25 years as a Papal diplomat for Bulgaria, Turkey and France and six years as Archbishop of Venice. He was not elected as Pope until he was 77 years old.

He was perhaps, best known for convening the 2nd Ecumenical Council, called Vatican II. Unlike previous Councils convened in order to correct some doctrinal error, John XXIII envisaged a Council which would be more positive rather than negative. He wanted a Council which promoted mercy, faith and the pastoral role of the Church. He invited representatives of other Christian groups to this Council.

He became popular not only as Pope but as a “Man of the People,“as he communicated his vision of “oneness” – not in doctrines, but rather a way of living, “in communion with the love of God.” He left the Church by updating Catholic practices and harmonised it with the advances which had taken place in the previous centuries.

As a student, this required me to think afresh of what I had been inculcated. It was a change in mentality, a way of thinking and prejudices, something which had never in my life been fully understood or achieved, something which Pope John felt could be reached.

Pope John was a likeable person, with an outgoing charisma. He was visible not only by his stature but a symbol of freshness which engulfed ancient rites of the Church to come uncomplicated to ordinary man.

Pope John Paul II (1978-2005)

In contrast Karol Wojtyla, as Pope John Paul II was one of the longest lived and most influential Popes in the history of the Church. For good or bad his position as a Polish Pope, his outstanding personality and his policies of reaching out to the world through his fluency in various languages, helped him shape current Catholicism.

We are told that before he was ordained Bishop of Krackow, he gave a series of lectures
which “expressed a sympathy for Marxism and strong critique of Western liberal capitalism,” embodied in his book “Katholicka Etyka Spoleczna” (Catholic Social Ethics).

He was truly Polish and like all Poles he had a great devotion to Mary, the Blessed Mother of Jesus. Living in Communist Poland, having witnessed the atrocities committed during the World Wars to Jews, he tried to reach out to the Jewish people in some sort of reconciliation. Perhaps, as some commentator’s state part of his motivation was that he had Jewish ancestry.

He had also seen Europe become an increasingly secularised continent with religion not having a profound influence. He thus worked hard to reverse this trend.

Poland at that time was beset with many problems, including living conditions. Pope John Paul gave the Polish people and others, a dignity and self esteem that was cherished. I recall the number of people of Polish origin claiming refugee status in Britain. Poland has a long and proud history, a culture and a tradition bound to religion.”The clash of civilisation – Catholicism v Communism” at that time, rocked the foundations of society. What Pope John Paul did to Poland has had a profound influence on the state of European culture today.

I had a personal feeling for Pope John Paul II as during the latter part of my working career for the Polish Shipping Lines, in London, I had the opportunity of visiting Poland many times. This enabled me to observe the way of life of the Polish people and to witness how much the people loved and were proud to have a Polish Pontiff.

The process to Sainthood

“Heroes are made, not born, some say, so are saints.”Critics of the Church maintain that the “dual canonizations have been pushed through without thorough vetting.”They say: Pope Francis has decided to waive Pope John XXIII second miracle, as fulfilling the conditions for sainthood. Others say Pope John Paul II was too ostentatious.

I doubt any of the 12 disciples who first followed Jesus were themselves totally clear concerning their motives for following Him. Man is human. The Church steeped in theology for centuries has emphasised the “punishment for sin as damnation.”Pope Francis is emphatic in his vision of “Mercy” as more important than ritual.

Who can deny that Popes, John XXII and John Paul II are in their own right special?
Should they deserve veneration as Saints?

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