John XXIII–John Paul II

Sainthood ceremonies for popes held at St. George’s

by W. Winston Skinner


Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, left, welcomes Pope Francis as they exchanged Christmas greetings, at the Vatican. The two pope took part in ceremonies elevating two of their predecessors to sainthood. 

Sainthood ceremonies for pope saints held at St. George’s By W. Winston Skinner

The Catholic church has elevated two popes to sainthood, and ceremonies in recognition were held in Vatican City – and at St. George Catholic Church in Newnan.

Father Henry Atem, pastor at St. George’s, assisted by Deacon Steve Beers, led a special prayer service at 3 p.m. on April 27 to observe the raising of two modern-day popes to sainthood – Pope John XXIII who died in 1963, and Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005.

Pope Francis formally announced the sainthood of the two popes the same day in Rome.

John XXIII “called the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church, Vatican II, in 1962,” said Jim Stagg of St. George’s. “This council had far-reaching effects on Catholic relations with other religions, and a major impact on Catholic liturgy and architecture.”

John Paul II was pope for 27 years. His pontificate “saw the dedicated implementation of the Vatican II Council, and the death of Communism in Eastern Europe, spurred by his efforts,” Stagg said.

“John Paul II was Polish – the first non-Italian pope in 455 years,” Stagg noted.

Pope John Paul II also established the second Sunday of the Easter Season as Divine Mercy Sunday. The name of this solemnity originated with private revelations to St. Faustina Kowalska, with a special chaplet, a "wreath of prayers", said daily to Jesus the Christ, in respect of His Sacred Heart, pierced on the Cross for the remission of our sins. The St. George service included the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, led in chant by Beers. The service started at 3 p.m., which is “the normal time of the day to pray the chaplet, based on the traditional hour of the death of Jesus on the Cross,” Stagg said.

In addition, an abbreviated Office of Readings followed the opening hymn, and the chaplet was sung within solemn benediction, “with the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar,” Stagg said.

After the benediction, Atem blessed religious items which would be used in group or private chaplet devotions. Among the items blessed were chaplet holy cards, chaplet prayer books and an icon of Divine Mercy.

Pope Francis celebrated the proclamation of sainthood at a Sunday morning Mass in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. John XXIII is a hero to many more liberal Catholics, and John Paul II is often seen as a hero by more conservative Catholics. Many saw the elevation of the two as a bid for unity by the current pontiff.

Francis invited retired Pope Benedict XVI to join him on the altar of St. Peter's Square, the first time a reigning and retired pope have celebrated Mass together in public in the 2,000-year history of the church.

An estimated 800,000 people – many of them from John Paul's native Poland – filled St. Peter's, the streets around it and bridges over the Tiber River, according to Associated Press.

Francis offered each new saint heartfelt praise in his homily, saying John had allowed himself to be led by God to call the council, and hailing John Paul's focus on the family.

"They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century," Francis said. "They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them."

Benedict put John Paul on the fast-track for possible sainthood just weeks after his 2005 death. John Paul's canonization is now the fastest in modern times, AP reported.

John's sainthood run, on the other hand, languished after his 2000 beatification. Rather than let John Paul have the limelight with a canonization on his own – emboldening many in the conservative wing of the church – Francis decided to pair him up with John. To do so, Francis tweaked the Vatican's own saint-making rules, deciding that John could be made a saint alongside John Paul without the necessary second miracle usually required.

Francis sounded a note of continuity in his homily, praising John for having called the council and John Paul for helping implement it.

"John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries," Francis said.

During the ceremony, Francis took a deep breath and paused for a moment before reciting the saint-making formula in Latin, as if moved by the history he was about to make in canonizing two popes at once. As soon as he did so, applause broke out from a crowd in St. Peter's and beyond.

In John Paul's native Poland, bells rang out as soon as Francis pronounced the two men saints. In the Philippines, where John Paul in 1995 drew the largest ever crowd for a papal Mass at 4 million, Filipinos watched the canonization on TV and joined local celebrations, including a suburban Manila parade of children dressed like the pope.

The Vatican estimated that 800,000 people watched the Mass in Rome, with about 500,000 in the square and nearby streets and the rest watching on TV screens that had been set up in piazzas around town. Salt + Light Television did a live broadcast of the Ceremony of Canonization for the two popes.

Kings, queens, presidents and prime ministers from more than 90 countries attended, AP reported. About 20 Jewish leaders from the United States, Israel, Italy, Francis' native Argentina and Poland also took part, in a clear sign of their appreciation for the great strides made in Catholic-Jewish relations under John, John Paul and their successors celebrating their sainthood.

Benedict's presence on the altar with them was as remarkable as the historic canonization itself.

Benedict had promised to remain "hidden from the world" after resigning last year, but Francis has coaxed him out of retirement and urged him to take part in the public life of the church.

During the Mass, Benedict sat off to the side of the altar with other cardinals, though he was clearly in a place of honor. He received the Italian president and a steady stream of cardinals. Francis himself embraced Benedict at the beginning and end of the service.

Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II “modeled courage, holiness, charity, and attentiveness to the call of Jesus,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “I join many millions of people around the world in joyfully celebrating the heroic virtue and fidelity to God exemplified by the lives of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.”

Kurtz said the formal proclamation affirms “what so many of us already believed.”

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