Recognizing John Paul IIís life of holiness


Pope John Paul II returned to Saint Peterís Square on Sunday, six years after his solemn funeral.

Last time he went to his grave; this time, as it were, he came from heaven – an image of him, adorned with a halo, being unveiled from the central balcony of St. Peter's basilica. In April 2005 there were tears of sorrow from that immense crowd of some three million people. This Sunday, tears of joy from another million or so souls, many of whom stayed overnight in the streets and squares around the Vatican, eager to be as close as possible when Pope Benedict XVI did something no pope has done for a thousand years – declare "blessed" his immediate predecessor.

Beatification is the Catholic Church's official judgment that someone is in heaven and worthy of public veneration. It is the final step before being declared a saint. (See graphic here.)

"I had known him earlier and esteemed him, but for twenty-three years I was at his side and came to revere him all the more," Benedict said of his long collaboration with John Paul as the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the late pope's chief lieutenant. "My own service was sustained by his spiritual depth and by the richness of his insights. His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me: he remained deeply united to God even amid the many demands of his ministry."

The beatification of a pope – or any person for that matter – is a declaration that he led a heroic life of holiness. It is not a recognition of ecclesial or worldly accomplishments. Mother Teresa was beatified – also six years after her death – because of her personal holiness, not because of her service to the poor. Yet that service was rooted in and inexplicable apart from her life as a Christian disciple, so holiness and mission are essentially linked.

Consequently, the beatification of John Paul did mark the signature achievements of his nearly 27 years as pope: vanquisher of communism, restorer of Catholic confidence after the turbulent 1970s, missionary to the ends of the earth, defender of the sanctity of every human life, evangelizer of the young, and finally, the suffering servant who taught the world how to face death with true dignity, courage and peace.

Calling him a "titan" of history who turned back tides once thought irreversible, Benedict repeated the famous words of John Paul in his inaugural papal homily in 1978, on October 22 – the date fixed by Benedict to be the John Paul's liturgical feast day: "Be not afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!"

Those words were everywhere in Rome – hung from Bernini's great colonnade, written on banners carried by young pilgrims, printed on t-shirts sold on the street.

"By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel," Benedict preached. "In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, for the truth is the guarantee of liberty."

"By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel."

Amongst those to whom Blessed John Paul, as he is now known, gave courage were his fellow Poles, tens of thousands of whom came to Rome. And there were the young, with whom John Paul has a special friendship, teaching them that they should not be afraid of their faith, and that they were capable of so much more than the world expected of them. A prayer vigil on Saturday evening gathered some 200,000 in the Circus Maximus, and took on the spirit of John Paul's gatherings with young people – bringing back memories of World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002.

"He radiated a conviction, a confidence, a courage that a skeptical and frightened world craved," explained Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York on the occasion of the beatification. "And [the young] were among them, reluctant to commit their lives to a question mark, but itching to embrace an exclamation point!"

It fell to Pope Benedict – described by John Paul's longtime personal secretary as one who regarded the late pope with the "love of a son and of a brother" – to write this exclamation point of the life of John Paul. Theirs was a historic partnership, almost unprecedented in the papacy, and on Sunday it continued – a collaboration no longer in time, but now crossing the threshold of eternity.




Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Recognizing John Paul II's life of holiness." Holy Post (Canada) May 1, 2011.

Holy Post is intended as a forum for everyone who has an interest in today's great religious issues. You will find a range of commentary on religion and society, internecine battles within faith and the meaning and purpose of religious beliefs and observance. All views are welcome and being religious is not a requirement to join in the comment sections.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

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