On Sunday, April 27, history will be made in the Roman Catholic Church when Pope Francis presides over the canonization of two of his predecessors — John XXIII and John Paul II. Never before has the Catholic Church held a ceremony in which two who held the office of Vicar of Christ on earth and Successor of Peter have been declared saints.
The history being made, however, is more than just this. It also is the fact that Pope Francis has been heavily influenced by both of these men. Born in 1936, Jorge Mario Bergoglio — now Pope Francis — would have known the pontificate of John XIII.
In 1958, at the age of 22, Bergoglio entered the novitiate of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). This was the same year that Angelo Cardinal Roncalli was elected Supreme Pontiff and took the name John. No doubt, Pope John’s humility and joviality had an effect on the young Bergoglio. As well, two of John XXIII’s eight encyclicals, Mater et Magistra (“Mother and Teacher”) and Pacem in Terris (“Peace on Earth”), were groundbreaking in their vision of what the Catholic Church needed to do so as to be a true witness to the Gospel of Christ. And, we cannot forget, that it was Pope John who called the Second Vatican Council, which changed the face of Roman Catholicism in the modern era.
It was Pope John Paul II who appointed Fr. Bergoglio as Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires in 1993. After he became Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, John Paul would then elevate him to the rank of cardinal in the consistory of 2001. The pontificate of John Paul II was the second longest in the history of the Catholic Church. As a bishop and then as a cardinal, Bergoglio would have met the Polish pope many times.
One of the aspects of John Paul’s papal ministry was his insistence on the correct interpretation of Vatican II. Over the 26 years of John Paul’s ministry as Supreme Pontiff, he also taught by example that each of us, individually, must live out the daily practice of Gospel living. Many of us can never forget the picture of John Paul sitting in the prison cell of his would-be assassin forgiving him of his transgression. Nor can we forget the frail pontiff, in his final months, giving a steadfast witness to living out one’s life even amid the struggles of suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
On Sunday, April 27, when Pope Francis canonizes these two holy men of the contemporary era, he will be declaring as saints two popes who heavily influenced not only his life, but that of the Church as well as the whole world. This will not only be a historic day for the Catholic Church. It can also be one that fills all of us with many blessings from the Lord our God.