Upwards of three million people will gather in Rome this weekend, for Sunday’s canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. Pope Francis will declare sainthood on two of his most influential predecessors.
Francis made the announcement last October during a meeting with cardinals at the Vatican. Each pope gained high international profiles – John for the modernizing the Church in the 1960s, and John Paul for encouraging the fall of Communism in his native Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe.
Bishop Gregory Parkes, who leads the Pensacola-Tallahassee Diocese, says the push to declare John Paul a saint – and bypass the normal five year waiting period after death -- began shortly after his death in 2005.
“One of my recollections is that at (John Paul’s) funeral, the faithful were calling for him to be proclaimed a saint immediately -- ‘Santo Subito’ in Italian,” Parkes said. “And so I think that really began the process of people thinking, ‘could this man truly be a saint?’ And that’s why I believe the five-year period was waived.”
Pope Francis announced the canonizations in July, and later the date was set for this Sunday – April 27 -- the first Sunday after Easter also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. It was that day in 2011 when John Paul II was beatified — a step toward canonization. Parkes says John Paul has met all the requirements – including what he calls “heroic faith.”
Many felt that John XXIII’s relatively short tenure – from 1958 until his death in 1963 – would keep him from being considered for sainthood. But Parkes says during that five-year period, John ushered in the reforms that became known as “Vatican II.”
Vatican observers say Pope Francis’ declarations further establish his stamp on the papacy. Many believe it’s an effort to promote unity within the Roman Catholic Church – John Paul for conservative Catholics, and John for the Church’s liberal wing. But Bishop Gregory Parkes argues that ideologically, the pontiffs were not all that different.
“These were two men which were popes for the people,” said Parkes. “John XXIII because he called the Second Vatican Council, and some of the changes that came about. But he was also a man of the Church. And then John Paul II, his name has often been referred to as ‘Blessed Pope John Paul the Great.’”
For John Paul, the road to sainthood will be a short one. Pope Francis cleared him a little more than eight years after his death -- faster than any other candidate in the modern era. Previously, the fastest canonization was that of Opus Dei founder Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer. The Spaniard died in 1975 and was declared a saint in 2002 by – Pope John Paul II.