Ten Years Ago Today, Two Great Popes Were Canonized

One decade ago, on April 27th, 2014, John Paul II together with John XXIII, were both canonized at St Peter’s Square by Pope Francis. Both of them lived in the most challenging historical times. Both of them were truly heroic witnesses of hope and joy which come from the Risen Jesus. Both of them were outstanding representatives of Jesus’ mercy for the world.

On the latter point I am reminded of the reflection Pope Francis shared with us during his homily of the canonization of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul, given at St Peter’s Square on Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday) of two years ago: In these two men, who looked upon the wounds of Christ and bore witness to his mercy, there dwelt a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy (1 Pet 1:3,8). The hope and the joy which the risen Christ bestows on his disciples, the hope and the joy which nothing and no one can take from them. The hope and joy of Easter, forged in the crucible of self-denial, self-emptying, utter identification with sinners, even to the point of disgust at the bitterness of that chalice. 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.

It needs to be said that these two men, in their simplicity and humility of life, bore witness to the power of the Gospel message. They made their own what John the Baptist said about Jesus: He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30). While they faithfully led us to Christ the latter was so visible and felt in them that, each in his own way, can tell you and me while looking at us in the eye the same words St Paul addressed to the Galatians: I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20). They led an exceptional life imbued with faith and service to their fellow men and women both in the Church and the world.

St John XXIII and St John Paul II are an extraordinary example of what Pope Francis calls in his apostolic exhortation on the call to holiness in today’s world, Gaudete Et Exultate, “saints next door”. These two great men of God who magnificently served him in their neighbour teach us that real holiness is always the result of communion. Since its agent is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of communion within the Holy Trinity itself, then it follows that holiness unites and never divides. On this point Gaudete et Exultate tells us: We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people. That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual. Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people (no. 6).

Moreover both these Roman Pontiffs were endowed with God’s infectious smile which brings healing and opens for a new transforming relationship with God and the brethren. God’s smile is present in all those who are open to it, including these two great examples of virtue and self-giving. In Gaudete Et Exultate Pope Francis reminds us that holiness is beautifully noticed in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile (no 7).

These two twentieth-century popes were incredibly pro-active when facing grave situations like the Cuban Missile Crisis in the opening days of the Council, Nazi horror in Poland and the suffocating Communist regime. Instead of letting themselves being carried away by tragic pessimism and playing the part of the victim both these two 20th-century popes were incredibly proactive messengers of God’s Kingdom. In Pope Francis’ words, for them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.

Let us remember these two great men of God, the Church and the people by what they themselves said. In his Spiritual Testament called Journal of a Soul, St John XXIII confides with us: In the hour of farewell, or, better, of leave-taking, I repeat once more that what matters most in this life is: our blessed Jesus Christ, his holy Church, his Gospel, and in the Gospel above all else the Our Father according to the mind and heart of Jesus, and the truth and goodness of his Gospel, goodness which must be meek and kind, hardworking and patient, unconquerable and victorious.

Whereas St John Paul II, in his address on the 15th World Youth Day on August 19, 2000, says to you and me: It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.

We praise you and we bless you, good and gracious God, for giving us Saints John XXIII and John Paul II to be our brothers on the path of holiness and examples of hope and light for the world. Let their courage embolden us, their missionary zeal for the Gospel inspire us, and their contagious joy be ours as we continue their work of preaching the good news to a world in need of your divine mercy and love. Saint John XXIII, pray for us! Saint John Paul II, pray for us! Blessed be God, for ever!



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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.