What Three Popes Are Telling the World

Tuesday, 29 Apr 2014 04:06 PM

By Gregory Erlandson

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At the funeral of Pope John Paul II in 2005, many in the crowd chanted “Santo subito,” calling for him to be made a saint immediately. While it took nine years, in terms of how such processes usually go, this was about as "subito" as one can get.
 
More typical is the case of Pope John XXIII, whose cause had taken decades and needed a dispensation from the Pope (only one miracle was required, not two) to proceed.
 
Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

Clearly Pope Francis wanted this dual canonization, which took place on April 27 at a Mass in St. Peter’s Square before hundreds of thousands of faithful. It is understandable that there has been much speculation about his intent. Both Popes had their critics and their advocates, and were stereotyped as being polar opposites.
 
Pope John was seen by his devotees as the great reformer. Following on the heels of Pope Pius XII’s long reign, he exuded a joy and a kindness that earned him the soubriquet “Good Pope John.” His encyclical "Pacem in Terris"(Peace on Earth) came at the height of the Cold War.
 
Among Catholics he is most remembered for opening the windows of the church to let the winds of the spirit blow in fresh air and fresh ways of thinking in the Second Vatican Council. Of course those who rejected the council saw him as the catalyst for introducing ill-conceived reforms into the church.  
 
It is ironic that a few of those quick to hail the canonization of Pope John have been harsh critics of Pope John Paul’s induction into the canon of saints.
 
Perhaps one of the nastiest columns was by columnist Maureen Dowd, who managed to take a remarkable pontificate stretched over 27 years and boil it down to one issue: “Given that he presided over the Catholic Church during nearly three decades of a gruesome pedophilia scandal and grotesque cover-up, he ain't no saint,” she wrote in her April 24 column.
 
Being a saint is a question of holiness, not perfection, and more fair-minded critics than Dowd recognize that this is a complicated issue on which history in time will render its verdict. But it is undeniable that John Paul’s impact on the church was historic.  
 
The first non-Italian to be elected Pope in centuries, the day he was elected in 1978 he told Catholics to “be not afraid.” After having just lost his predecessor in 33 days, and having endured the battered pontificate of Paul VI, Catholics were electrified by the unexpected election of this energetic, intellectual, absolutely self-confident Pole.
 
It is true that he saw himself as restoring order to chaos and direction to drift. He was shaped by the traumas of Europe — World War II and the Cold War — and he understood the church to be engaged in a great struggle with both the Marxist and capitalist varieties of materialism.
 
He also wanted to reassure Catholics that the church itself was on course. That is why one of his most important accomplishments was the creation of the "Catechism of the Catholic Church." After many years of confusion and debate, the church reaffirmed its teachings thoroughly yet concisely, rooting it in scripture and in the writings of its greatest thinkers and saints.  
 
It is unfortunate that the polemics that have convulsed the church for the past several decades have made their way into this double canonization. But I must believe that this was part of Pope Francis’ intention. John Paul — even by choosing his name — saw himself as linked to his predecessors, particularly John XXIII. Francis understands himself in the same way.
 
From Francis, the message seems to be clear: Stop the in-house battles and the false polarization between the Pope of social justice and the Pope of doctrine. John, John Paul, and Francis are all of the above, which is the answer every Catholic should give. The message of all three Popes is to engage the world not out of fear but with love.
 
How we are to accomplish this task may be the real point made by Francis in his April 27 homily, which focused on what united these two remarkable leaders: They were both men of the 20th century who saw up close the horrors of that century, but did not lose heart.
 
Francis: Who Is Pope Francis? Book Reveals the Man

For Francis, the lesson for us is what unites these two quite different men: “Such were the hope and the joy which these two holy Popes had received as a gift from the risen Lord and which they in turn bestowed in abundance upon the people of God, meriting our eternal gratitude.”
 
Hope and joy, mercy and courage: Those are the lessons of the two newly sainted Popes, and the message of Pope Francis as well.
 
Gregory R. Erlandson is the president of the Publishing Division for Our Sunday Visitor, one of the largest Catholic publishing companies in the United States. Erlandson is also an adviser on the U.S. Bishops’ Communications Committee, and has been appointed by Pope Benedict XVI as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Read more reports from him — Click Here Now.
 
 
 
 

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