The Holy See announced July 5 that Pope Francis had approved the canonization of two of the most beloved popes of the last century, Blessed John XXIII (1958-63) and Blessed John Paul II (1978-2005). The date for the canonizations was not officially set, but it is thought that they might be held together before the end of the year, possibly Nov. 24, the feast of Christ the King, or Dec. 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception. It would be the first time two popes were canonized on the same day.
While the announcement that a second miracle had been approved for Pope John Paul was anticipated, the news that Pope Francis had cleared the way for Pope John to be declared a saint without a second miracle was entirely unexpected.
The decision to proceed without the traditional second miracle certainly falls within Pope Francis’ authority as supreme pontiff. Nor would a double canonization be entirely unheard of. In 2000, Pope John Paul beatified both Popes Blessed Pius IX and John XXIII in the same ceremony.
Best known for his summoning of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Pope John — born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli — was also revered for his good nature, wit, common sense and, above all, his holiness. His autobiography, “Journal of a Soul,” is considered a spiritual classic.
His cause for canonization was opened in 1967 with the blessing of his successor, Pope Paul VI.
Speaking about Pope Francis’ decision to proceed with a canonization without the second typically required miracle, Vatican Press spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi pointed out that it was the pope’s will that the sanctity of the great pontiff who summoned Vatican II be recognized. Father Lombardi added that a canonization without a second miracle is still valid, given that a miracle verified by the Congregation for Saints’ Causes led to his beatification in 2000. He also pointed to ongoing discussions among theologians and experts about whether it is necessary to have two distinct miracles for beatification and canonization, and then there is the pope’s right to dispense with a second miracle.
In the case of Pope John Paul, calls for his canonization began literally at the time of his death in 2005. At his funeral, there were chants of “santo subito” (Italian for “saint immediately”), and within days of his own election as Pope John Paul’s successor, Pope Benedict XVI waived the customary five-year waiting period to begin a cause.
Pope John Paul was beatified on May 1, 2011, after the Congregation for Saints’ Causes approved the miraculous cure of a French nun suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The reported second miracle was of Floribeth Mora Diaz, a Costa Rican woman who inexplicably recovered from a cerebral aneurism on the day of John Paul’s beatification and after praying for his intercession. His formal canonization will be the fastest in modern history.
Vatican II ties
Some in the media have speculated that the two canonizations are intended to provide theological “balance” between the supposedly liberal Pope John and the conservative Pope John Paul. Far more significant is the continuing backdrop of the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. Both popes were figures in the council’s labors — Pope John convoked it and then-Bishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland, the future John Paul II, took part as a member of a new generation of bishops who supported the pope’s aspirations for reform and renewal, aggiornamento, in the Church.
Lionized by many in the media and some Church circles for what they see as opening the door to the purported “liberalization” of the Church, Pope John in truth had a clear vision for the council, one in which the unchanging and badly needed teachings of the Faith could be presented in ways that the modern world could best understand.
That vision was very much a component in the papal program of Pope John Paul, who devoted considerable effort in his pontificate to the authentic implementation of the council’s decrees. This included the important 1985 Synod of Bishops that looked at the proper interpretation of the council. In this regard, the two new pontiff saints represent a vital source of continuity with the contemporary papal magisterium, including the New Evangelization and the teachings of Popes Benedict XVI and Francis, including Pope Francis’ newly released encyclical, Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”).
Finally, the canonizations of popes may not end with Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. There are causes proceeding apace for Popes Pius XII, Paul VI and John Paul I.
Matthew Bunson is senior correspondent for OSV Newsweekly.