BROOKLYN (PIX11) – The late Pope John Paul II got most of the headlines Friday, but the Catholic Church actually announced two, significant pontiffs from the 20th Century would be made saints this year. The second is Pope John XXIII, who was born in Venice, Italy and served from 1958 to 1963– launching the Second Vatican Council–which radically changed the rules about how Mass is celebrated—and in what language—and brought the Church more in step with modern society.
John Paul II, the first Polish-born pope, served more than a quarter century and was the most traveled Holy Father ever. He was elected to the papacy in 1978, survived an assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square in 1981, and was given immense credit for helping to end Communism in eastern Europe. He prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and reached out to Jewish leaders, along with Presidents and Prime Ministers from around the globe. A Church conservative unpopular in some quarters for his stands against birth control and female ordination, he was criticized near the end of his papacy—when he was fighting the ravages of Parkinson’s Disease—for failing to adequately address the suffering of thousands of sex abuse victims, who were abused by priests around the world.
Professor Maureen Tilley of Fordham University pointed out to PIX 11 “the process of canonization usually takes many, many years.” When asked why John Paul II seemed to be on the “fast track” to sainthood, eight years after his death, she replied, “I think he was on the ‘fast track’ because he was a world traveler and had a charismatic presence to the media. “ She added, “I think, in the end, one of the things he’ll be remembered for is, in a sense, his public dying.” Tilley was referring to the debilitating physical toll Parkinson’s took on John Paul II, the former Karol Wojtyla from Wadowice, Poland.
Some critics were upset with John Paul II’s quick elevation to sainthood, because of the way he dealt with the sexual abuse crisis among the Catholic Church’s priests. One alleged victim, Juan Vaca, said he was molested by a priest who led the Legion of Christ group. Pope John Paul II never removed the priest from his position, although his successor, Pope Benedict XVI did. On Friday, the alleged victim, Juan Vaca, called the announcement that John Paul II would be named a saint, “shocking and appalling.” The Vatican argued that a person’s sainthood is not based solely on his pontificate—but on the entire record of their life.
John Paul II—a child of World War II—studied in secrecy to become a priest in the 1940’s. His mother had died when he was just nine years old. He inspired huge numbers of Catholics with his stance against Communism and his mesmerizing style of preaching.
The Catholic Church normally requires proof of two miracles, before a person is allowed to become a saint. A French nun said she was cured of Parkinson’s disease, within six months of asking for John Paul II’s intercession, shortly after his death. A Costa Rican woman offered proof of another miracle, at the time of John Paul’s beatification in 2007.
But the new Pope, Francis I, waived the “miracle requirement” when it came to John XXIII. There was no, second “proven” miracle in John XXIII’s case—but the Pope and a group of cardinals and bishops decided it was time to make him a saint.