October 1, 2013 – 3:14AM
Elisabetta Povoledo and Alan Cowell
Pope John XXIII (right) celebrating Christmas Eve mass in 1962, and cardinal Karol Wojtyla on October 16, 1978 who was elected Pope John Paul II. The late popes will be made saints at an unprecedented joint ceremony on April 27, 2014 in a bid to unite Catholic conservatives and liberals. Photo: AFP Photo
Vatican City: Pope Francis said Monday he would canonise two of his most influential predecessors, John Paul II and John XXIII, on the same day next spring, a highly unusual move that was taken as a gesture designed to promote unity within the Roman Catholic Church.
The two popes, who have disparate followings among reformers and conservatives within the church, will be declared saints on April 27, Francis said during a meeting with cardinals at the Vatican. Each achieved considerable international stature: John Paul II for encouraging the fall of communism in his native Poland and across Eastern Europe, and John XXIII for assembling the liberalising Second Vatican Council, which ran from 1962 to 1965.
To celebrate them together is a sign of appreciation of the holiness of two popes who paid witness to our time
“To celebrate them together is a sign of appreciation of the holiness of two popes who paid witness to our time,” the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said during a news conference on Monday.
The pope announced in July that he would canonise the two men but did not set a date, and there were initial indications that he would act this year. Father Lombardi said April 27, the first Sunday after Easter, would be “a good date for pilgrims who might already be in Rome.”
Candidates for sainthood usually have two miracles attributed to them. But Francis approved the canonisation of John XXIII with only one — the curing of an ailing woman — which Father Lombardi said in July was a result of eagerness to honour “the great pope of the Second Vatican Council.”
On Monday, he said the canonisation should be seen “in the context of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, and the universally heartfelt fame that surrounds John XXIII.” He said that while John was the council’s initiator, John Paul was “its great implementer.”
He added that Francis described John Paul II as a “great visionary, the new St. Paul,” during an impromptu news conference on the papal plane returning from World Youth Day in Brazil in July.
A Vatican committee credited John Paul II with interceding to cure a French nun, Marie Simon-Pierre Normand, of Parkinson’s, the disease he died from in 2005.
His second designated miracle was the healing of a woman who prayed to him on the day of his beatification.
At that ceremony, which drew 1.5 million people to Rome, Benedict XVI, now retired, lauded John Paul II as a central figure in the history of the 20th century and a hero of the church.
“He was witness to the tragic age of big ideologies, totalitarian regimes,” Benedict said, “and from their passing John Paul II embraced the harsh suffering, marked by tension and contradictions, of the transition of the modern age toward a new phase of history, showing constant concern that the human person be its protagonist.”
On Monday, Father Lombardi said that Benedict might join Francis in the canonisation ceremony.
“There is no reason — either doctrinal or institutional — that he couldn’t participate in the public ceremony,” Father Lombardi said, responding to news reports from Poland that the retired pope would be present.
Benedict stepped down in February and has been living in self-imposed isolation in a monastery inside the Vatican walls.
The New York Times