Saintly Popery: Saints John XXIII and John Paul II

On April 27, 2014, Divine Mercy Sunday, the Catholic Church celebrated a momentous occasion in the course of her history. Pope Francis, joined by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and surrounded by over 1 million faithful people from across the world, canonized two of his predecessors: Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. Of the 266 successors of St. Peter, only 80 of them are saints. The canonization Mass set history: it was the first time a pope ever celebrated Mass joined by a predecessor in public and the first time two popes were canonized at the same time. To put the magnitude into perspective, the last pope to be canonized was St. Pius X, who died in 1914, but before him, it was St. Pius V, who died in 1572. The Church hasn’t seen two canonized popes in the same century since Gregory VII and Leo IX who both lived during the 11th century!

In the hour of farewell, or, better, of leave-taking, I repeat once more that what matters most in this life is: our blessed Jesus Christ, his holy Church, his Gospel, and in the Gospel above all else the Our Father according to the mind and heart of Jesus, and the truth and goodness of his Gospel, goodness which must be meek and kind, hardworking and patient, unconquerable and victorious. -St. John XXIII

Pope St. John XXIII was born in Italy 1881 with the given name Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli. The 4th of 14th children, he was ordained a priest at 23 years old. He served the Church in a number of different ways, including being nuncio (ambassador) to Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. Pope Pius XII named him the Cardinal Archbishop of Venice in 1953. He was elected pope in 1958 in the 11th ballot of voting to his great surprise. His life and papacy was marked by many surprising moments when he would spontaneously visit places throughout Rome, much like Pope Francis. The people of Rome affectionately called him “Good Pope John.”

His life was also marked by a great sense of wit and humor. Once, he went to visit a hospital in Rome called the Hospital of the Holy Spirit, run by a group of Catholic sisters. The mother superior, deeply stirred by the papal visit, went up to him in order to introduce herself: “Most Holy Father,” she said, “I am the superior of the Holy Spirit.” “Well, I must say you’re very lucky,” replied the pope. “I’m only the Vicar of Christ.”

Pope St. John Paul II was born in Poland in 9120 with the given name Karol Józef Wojtyła. He was the second longest serving pope in modern history and the first non-Italian Pope since Adrian VI in 1523. He was the most well-traveled pope in history, having visited 129 countries as pope. A great theologian and philosopher, he published an average 3,000 pages a year as pope.

The Apostolic See… offers for imitation, veneration and invocation by the faithful those men and women who are renowned for the splendor of their love as well as the other evangelical virtues and, after conducting the appropriate investigations, declares with a solemn act of canonizations that they are saints. -St. John Paul II

Discussion Questions

  1. John XXIII’s landmark achievement in his pontificate was the calling and opening of the Second Vatican Council. He said” Everyone wants the forthcoming Ecumenical Council to give all possible impetus to the spread of Christianity. It must give louder and louder utterance to that “word by which the kingdom is preached” mentioned in the parable of the sower, and help to bring about the wider extension of “the kingdom of God” in the world. But all this must depend to a large extent on the dispositions of the souls which the Council will be endeavoring to inspire to truth and virtue, to the worship of God both in private and in public, to a disciplined life and to missionary zeal. Paenitentiam Agere.
    • What effects did Vatican II have on the Church? For what reasons do you think he called the Council?
  2. Context is very important. Why do you think Pope Francis canonized John XXIII and John Paul II at the same time?
  3. Pope St. John XXIII was a man of great humor, wit, and laughter. He was famously asked by a reporter one time: “How many people work in the Vatican?” He responded, “About half.” What role should humor play in the Church and in the life of faith? How does it help?
  4. John Paul II was the most well-traveled pope in history, visiting over 129 countries and traveling more than 1,100,000 kilometers (680,000 miles). He attracted the largest crowds ever in the history of the human race, such as the World Youth Day in Manila at 4 million plus.
    • What was so attractive about John Paul II?
      What is attractive about the lives of the saints?
      What does the life of a saint inspire?
  5. The canonization of John Paul II has not been without criticism. Some have said that the rapid canonization, coming only 9 years after his death in 2005, is too hasty. Where do you think the criticism comes from? Do you think the concern is a valid one?
  6. In his pontificate, John Paul II beatified 1,340 people and canonized 483 saints. That’s more than the number of blessers and saints than the previous five centuries combined. What do you think John Paul II was trying to tell the world about the faith in the number of his canonizations and beatifications?
  7. What does it mean for us to live in a time surrounded by many saints? What saints have been created in the last century, and what does that tell us about the status of the Church in the world?