No other way | Inquirer Opinion

No other way

Popes John XXIII and John Paul II may be canonized as saints together, possibly on Dec. 8, Rome’s La Stampa newspaper reported. That day is the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

The Congregation for Causes of Saints meets on Tuesday, the Vatican Press Office said. But it didn’t comment on an Associated Press report that members had formalized their recommendation to canonize John Paul II. All proceedings in sainthood causes are secret until the Pope issues the relevant decrees.

Filipinos feel a special affinity for John Paul II. He first visited here in 1981 and told a poker-faced dictator Ferdinand Marcos to his face: “Government cannot claim to serve the common good when human rights are not safeguarded.” During the Marcos years, there were 3,257 extrajudicial killings, 35,000 torture victims, and 70,000 imprisoned, historian Alfred McCoy notes in a Yale University study. That dark legacy hobbles Ferdinand Jr.’s supposed bid to seek the presidency in 2016.

John Paul II presided over World Youth Day at Rizal Park in January 1995. Over four million attended the closing Mass. That’s the current world record for the largest papal gathering. Filipinos will host Pope Francis in January 2016. He’ll attend the 51st International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu City. An advance team is here now to finalize details. Filipinos will look beyond the Church’s institutional deadwood and identify with Francis’ concerns for the poor.


The likelihood then is that of a two-John canonization. That fans an ongoing debate where laymen and scholars compare the man who’ll be honored and the pontiff who’ll preside over the ancient rites.

“From the moment of his introduction to the world as Pope Francis, Jorge Mario Bergoglio resembled Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, or Pope John XXIII, more than any other pontiff,” John Borelli of Georgetown University wrote in the international Catholic weekly The Tablet.

Both men were 76 when elected. Roncalli’s electors figured on a short-term caretaker—54 months, it turned out. But John XXIII stunned everyone by convening the Second Vatican Council. Only 20 such general councils have been held in the last 2,000 years.

Pope Francis turns 77 in December. Barely less than 200 days on the chair of St. Peter, he is correcting the Church’s immediate past, as did John XXIII. He is setting directions for the future, notably implementing  stalled Vatican II reforms…


Pope Benedict was 78 when elected, recalls Eugene Cullen Kennedy, professor of psychology at Loyola University in Chicago. “Benedict XVI spent eight long—and I mean long—years as our Holy Father. Francis entered our lives only a season ago.” So why does Francis seem like someone we’ve known a long time? Of Benedict, we fall back on the Irish saying that “we hardly knew ye.”

John and Francis resemble each other most in their being anything but themselves. By its very nature, that quality cannot be faked. As they did about John, people sense there is no pretense that keeps them from an easy relationship with Francis.


Almost overnight, Francis began to restore the credibility of his Church just by being himself. He washed the feet of prisoners, including a Muslim woman, at the Holy Thursday liturgy. Thus, “he panicked far-right Catholics but spoke of true religion to the world.”

The act “spoke more of Francis’ understanding of Islam than the learned (but often misunderstood) theologically dense addresses of Benedict XVI. That, alas, was not Benedict’s strong suit,” Kennedy adds. He was determined to diminish the influence of a Vatican council that he insisted had been misinterpreted.

In contrast, Francis seems to be defined by the “spirit” of Vatican II. “That is why we feel we have known  Francis a long time. And despite his catalogue of virtues, Benedict fades into the past he loves a little more every day.”

Roncalli chose the name “John.” That broke a 175-year pattern of usual names: Pius, Leo, Gregory and Benedict. Bergoglio broke two even larger traditions. He is the first Jesuit to be elected pope. No one before felt brave enough to choose the name of the universally beloved 13th-century saint: Francis of Assisi. By 1964, the council fathers had adopted interreligious dialogue, especially with Muslims.

Nine days into his papacy, Francis told the Vatican diplomatic corps that he hoped to intensify dialogue among various religions, especially with Islam. That reminded Borelli of St. Francis of Assisi crossing military lines to dialogue with Sultan Malik al-Kamil.

As cardinal in Buenos Aires, Bergoglio coauthored “Sobre el Cielo y la Tierra (On Heaven and Earth)” with Abraham Skorka, a scientist and Jewish rabbi. “I think he’s going to change everything that he believes needs to be changed,” Skorka told the Tablet.

In this book with Rabbi Skorka, the then future pope remembers being five or six years old and accompanying his grandmother. Two Salvation Army ladies passed by and he asked her if they were nuns. “No,” she replied, “they are Protestants, but they are good.” Bergoglio reflected back on the incident as archbishop and praised his grandmother’s “wisdom of true religion.”

“A theoretical poverty is no use to us,” Francis told a May 8 worldwide assembly of women religious. And this Friday, he stressed in his morning homily: “Reaching out to our wounded brothers in works of mercy is touching the Crucified’s own wounds… There is no other way.”

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TAGS: Catholic Church, john paul ii, Juan L. Mercado, opinion, Pope John XXIII, Religion, sainthood, Vatican, Viewpoint

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