Express lane

Multiple “historical firsts” explain why all roads lead to Rome on April 27—where all hotels have been booked solid. Institutions like Pontificio Collegio Filippino on Via Aurelia are similarly crammed. Pope Francis will declare on that day Popes John XXIII and John Paul II saints.

It will be the first double papal canonization in two millennia. Rites have been simplified. “Sobriety is the order of the day,” Italian daily La Stampa reported. There’ll be a prayer vigil in 11 Rome churches the night before. The tapestries to be used are from the prior beatifications. “The low-frills style of Pope Francis is having an effect,” notes the Associated Press.


Only 250,000 can cram into Piazza di San Pietro and Via della Conciliazione. Thus, giant screens have been set up in Rome and provision has been made for the world press. The two women, whose healing is attributed to John Paul II’s intercession, will be present.

Will Pope emeritus Benedict XVI attend the rites? He became the first pontiff to resign since 1415 AD when Pope Gregory stood down to avoid schism. If he does, two living and two deceased popes will figure in one historic ceremony.


Francis splices, in one ceremony, two schools of thought on what a pope should be. A simple parish priest figure, like Angelo Roncalli of Italy and a globe-trotting superstar like Karol Wojtyla of Poland. It’s “a masterstroke that’s already stirred dissent,” Agence France Presse reports.

“Reform the church?” asked then Archbishop Roncalli. “Is such a thing possible?” He was the son of Italian sharecroppers who couldn’t afford the bus fare to his ordination. But in 1958, the nearly 77-year-old Roncalli was elected by wary cardinals who pegged him a transition pope.

Humor has always been the handmaid of sanctity. “Anybody can be pope,” Roncalli joshed. “The proof is I’ve become one.” Asked how many people worked in the Vatican, he deadpanned, “About half of them.” In his

Hospital of the Holy Spirit visit, the flustered mother superior introduced herself. “Holy Father,” she said, “I’m the superior of the Holy Spirit.” “You’re very lucky,” was the reply. “I’m only the vicar of Christ.”

As John XXIII, Roncalli, stunned many by calling out: Apertura  a  sinistra. “Open the windows and let the fresh air in.” Few foresaw that the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II), which he convened, would jolt a sclerotic Church to its founding fervor.

John XXIII died in 1963 before Vatican II ended. What emerged recast the Church as the “People of God, with full participation of all the baptized, yet always in need of reform.” Council adviser Fr. Joseph Ratzinger defined this as  perennis  reformatio. He repeated that theme as Benedict XVI.

Vatican II reached out to other faiths and built bridges to a world hurtling into a digital age. It asserted its “prophetic role,” smudged by cozy accommodation with assorted dictators.


“I have the bishops by their balls,” Ferdinand Marcos scoffed before Pope John Paul II came to the Philippines in January 1981. Marcos touted a cosmetic lifting of martial law. Imelda decked out the Coconut Palace for the Pontiff. But John Paul politely declined and lodged instead at the sparse nunciature in Pasay City.

“Even in exceptional conditions… the state cannot claim to serve the common good when human rights are not safeguarded,” John Paul II told a poker-faced Marcos and cronies in his Jan. 17, 1981, speech at Malacañang Palace.

Then, he went to Luneta where he beatified now St. Lorenzo Ruiz, then flew to Bacolod. There, he pressed for an end to the exploitation of  sacadas. “This is war,” fumed a Negros sugar planter.

John Paul II returned in 1995 to preside over World Youth Day where over four million people flooded Luneta to attend the closing Mass. That’s the current world record for the “largest papal gathering in Catholic history.”

On entering St. Peter’s Square in May 1981, John Paul II was shot four times by by Mehmet Ali Agca who was sentenced to life. The Pope forgave Agca. At John Paul’s request, Agca was pardoned by Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, and was deported to Turkey in June 2000.

The rule books say five years must pass after a person’s death before even a beatification process can begin. It took 341 years for Pedro Calungsod of the Visayas to be canonized and 28 years for St. Therese of Lisieux, France.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was beatified in October 2003—less than six years after her death. John Paul II allowed the immediate opening of her canonization cause. Seen in this context, the April 27 rites for John XXIII and John Paul II are on express lane.

This February, the Archdiocese of Cebu submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, in the Vatican, the conclusion of a

3-year study into the life of Bishop Teofilo Camomot. The late prelate was known to hock  even his pectoral cross to help the poor.

Msgr. Dennis Villarojo has been named as postulator for the beatification process.

At the end of John Paul’s funeral Mass in 2005, throngs chanted “Santo  Subito!” What were they really saying in the demand for “Saint Now”? asked Chicago Tribune’s Kenneth Woodward. “They were crying out that in Karol Wojtyla, they saw someone who lived with God and lived with us.”

Fr. Thomas Rosica, in a September 2013 article, said this of John Paul II: In over 27 years, as the 263rd successor to Peter the Fisherman, John Paul II “traveled the world, bringing to men and women the gospel… beyond all geographical boundaries…. he also crossed continents of the spirit, often far from one another and set against each other… to make room in the world for the peace of Christ. Truly he has been Pontifex, a builder of bridges in a world that too often erects walls and divisions.”

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