Declaration of Saints

One PR student is witness to this momentous event for the Catholic faith

On April 27th, 2014 Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church declared two of his predecessors Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II Saints. Millions and millions of people flocked, by the busloads, to Rome, Italy. A relatively quiet, laid back city, suddenly became so crowded and chaotic that parts of the city had to shut down. Hundreds of dignitaries and heads of state also came on that particular day. Thousands of people camped out as much as 24-hours ahead in order to get a spot in St. Peter’s square. Pope Francis declared the two Saints in a special ceremony of canonization amid the church’s regular worship service, the Mass.

When I was there I watched the service on TV from the English speaking section of the city, which was on the Form, just off of The Colosseum. As I watched, people all around us had their eyes glued to the screen. As I walked around before the service I saw and talked with people from all over the world. There were groups of people literally dancing in the streets. We were all so different; but were all bonded together in one faith. The Vatican was so packed that in order to get a spot, people were lining up as much as 24 hours in advance. On that Sunday when they finally let people in, I’m told it was a land rush for the few chairs there. Overall it was an amazing sight to behold, people from all over the world came for one purpose. Strangers found something in common with each other: their faith. I was glad to be a part of this and watch all of this as it unfolded.

What is a Saint? A Saint, with a capital S, is anyone the Catholic Church recognizes and declares as such. Saints are people, whose holy lives are considered examples for others, and whose intercession the faithful can call upon in prayer. This is not to be confused with saint with a lower case s, which is anyone of the faithful living in heaven right now. What roles do Saints play in the life of the Catholic Church?  By their life, Saints shows the faithful how to better live his or her life and grow in holiness. They are like the role models of the Catholic Church.

Who were Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II? One of the lesser known of the two new Saints is Pope John XXIII. Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was born in Sotto il Monte, Italy on November 25, 1881 to a poor sharecropping family. In 1914 he was a stretch bearer and chaplain in the Italian army he was discharged in 1919.During WW2 he saves thousands of Jews and locals in France. He is summoned back to the Vatican in 1958 to help select a new Pope. In the end Roncalli is chosen; assuming the new name John XXIII, a name not used by Popes in almost 500 years.

As Pope, the people thought he would be a transitional leader. This was not to be. Most notably he started Vatican II, a council that helped to modernize the Church. By late 1962, he is diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. He was the first Pope to be honored as the Time Magazine Man of the Year. Six months after his death U.S. President Johnson awards him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The other Pope made Saint was Pope John Paul II the more famous and well known of the two Popes. Karol Josef Wojityla was born in Wodwice, Poland on May 18, 1920 to a devout Catholic family. His mother died of heart and kidney problems and his brother died of scarlet fever. A local youth leader, Jan Tryanowski helped Karol to discern his calling to the priesthood. During WW2 he studied for the priesthood in an underground seminary in occupied Poland.

In 1947 he was sent to Rome to continue his studies. In 1951 Fr. Karol was given the opportunity to take a break from his priesthood and become qualified as a University Professor. In 1958 he became a bishop. From 1962-1965 he attended the Vatican II council, where he contributed greatly.

After the council he went back to Poland to implement the teaching of the council. He became a cardinal in 1967. In 1978 he was elected Pope taking on the name John Paul II, named after his predecessor who was in office for only 33 days. He was the first non-Italian Pope in hundreds of years.

As Pope he wrote more, traveled more, and canonized more Saints than any other Pope in recent history. He boldly upheld church doctrine, but did so with humility. He worked to try and bring new relations with other world religion and even the divisions in Christianity together. He also started the World Youth Day,an annual gathering of youth and young adults for prayer, worship and celebration of the Catholic faith, in 1984.  John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, after 26 years of faithful service to the Church as Pope.

These two new Saints bring renewed hope and other examples of how to live a holy life, to Catholics everywhere. The effects of the Vatican II council will be felt for years and years to come. Even after death, John Paul II’s multitude of written works will continue to inspire and show the faithful how to live out their faith. All this and more is why millions, including myself were there in Rome at the end of April. Being there I got to see the universality of the Catholic Church, millions of people from all over the world united in one common faith.