George Weigel: Two saints, one message

Spectacular doubleheader

In celebrating the dual canonisations Francis has created a unique papal doubleheader, rich in meaning for the Church and the world, writes George Weigel.

- Ethics and Public Policy Centre

Getting to that meaning, however, requires excavating layers of misimpressions and caricatures that obscure our 21st century perceptions of two of the 20th century’s most striking figures. It means seeing John XXIII and John Paul II as the two bookends of the Second Vatican Council, sharing a common, great intention: to see Catholicism become a more compelling agent of divine mercy in a deeply confused and badly wounded world.

At the surface level, where stereotypes inevitably abound, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who became Pope John XXIII, and Karol Jozef Wojtyła, who became Pope John Paul II, were quite different personalities. Roncalli was Italian; Wojtyła, a Pole, broke the 455-year-long Italian domination of the papacy.

Roncalli had a very short papal reign, a mere four and a half years; Wojtyła had the second-longest pontificate in reliably recorded history, almost twenty-six and a half years.

Roncalli was a jolly figure of considerable girth; until Parkinson’s disease wrecked his body, Wojtyła was an accomplished athlete who, for years, snuck out of the Vatican in mufti for day-long skiing holidays.

Roncalli, as John XXIII, became famous for self-deprecating wit (Pious nun, welcoming the Pope to a convent: 'Welcome, Your Holiness, I am the superior of the Holy Spirit.' Pope John: 'Congratulations, Sister, I am merely the Vicar of Jesus Christ.'); Wojtyła could charm and inspire immense crowds, but he was also capable of applying a public smackdown to Sandinista protesters who boorishly interrupted his sermon in Nicaragua in 1983.

There was something of the 19th century about John XXIII, who was born in 1881 and whose photographic depictions in the ancient regalia of the papacy summon up memories of a lost age of papal court splendour; John Paul II was a thoroughly modern man who deliberately led the Church out of one age and into another.

Yet a closer look at these two lives reveals interesting parallels that underscore Pope Francis’s wisdom in arranging that these two predecessors be named saints on the same day.

FULL STORY Two Popes, two saints, one message (Ethics and Public Policy Centre)

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