Friday morning Pope Francis announced the dual canonization of the late Pope John Paul II and John XXIII. While many Catholics celebrated the positive news about two beloved pontiffs, there was some surprise about the day in which it was announced.
“Well it was kind of surprising,” said Rev. Msgr. Michael Heinz of South Bend’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral, “not that they were going to be canonized, but today was the day we had heard he was going to release the encyclical.”
Earlier in the day, Pope Francis released his first papal encyclical, “Lumin Fidei.”
“So it was a triply good day for the Catholic world,” said Msgr. Heinz.
The fact that two popes are being canonized at the same time is remarkable in and of itself. Msgr. Heinz said he is unaware if there has been any other time in modern history were two popes were made saints simultaneously. The dual decision bridges a generation of the church in many ways said Heinz.
“John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, and in many ways John Paul II tried to bring it to its completion.”
Both former popes occupy a unique time in history—the age of media.
Blessed John Paul II was a pope who was able to use modern media as a way to appear to an audience around the world. Whereas popes a hundred years ago communication by the spread of papers and doctrines, these two pontiffs were able to create public personas.
“It makes them much more visible and easier to know and love than a figure who is remote to us,” said Heinz.
The sense of familiarity with Blessed John Paul II and John XXIII has made their canonization all the more significant.
“Especially to see someone that we've kind of known, grown up with has been announced a saint, it makes sainthood that much more attainable for all of us who are fighting the good fight,” said Stephen Jagla on his way to 12:15 p.m. mass at St. Patrick’s in South Bend.
Msgr. Heinz explained the steps toward sainthood.
For centuries there was no formal process for canonization. According to Heinz, who were martyred, or those who were publicly acclaimed became saints until the process became formalized in the twelfth century.
“When John Paul II died, if you recall in St. Peter's square there were people holding up placards that said ‘Santo Subito,’ ‘Saint Right Away.’ The recognition of acclamation is a tribute to his quality of life and holiness.
But Heinz affirmed that despite popularity, the church has been and will continue to be very careful in determining saints.
There are commissions in Rome which just look at the facts of historical record. Asking the question “does this make sense?” and seeking to eliminate every possible explanation before considering miraculous intercession.
Two miracles thus far have been confirmed for John Paul II. According to NBC News, the first involved the healing of a French nun and the second involved the healing of a woman in Costa Rica. These two miracles were reported and confirmed in fairly rapid succession considering the decades many wait to become saints.
“We're a culture that doesn't like to wait for anything, we have the internet we have microwaves we're not used to waiting so it doesn't surprise me that this process has been quicker than many in the history of the church,” explained Heinz.
The benefit of determining healing miracles in the modern era is the ability to verify that a disease or ailment existed and now ceases to exist can be done with technology. Heinz says the church doesn’t build its whole case on miracles alone. Other considerations include heroic sanctity of someone’s life and the witness they give to Jesus.
A pastoral center in the diocese was named for blessed John Paul II in Sept. 2011. According to Heinz it was a way for the diocese to honor his legacy. But now that he is almost fully a saint, the building and parishes across the country can be named “St. John Paul II.”
“If this brings people to the church, brings people back to the sacraments if it brings people back to the life of the faith, that's in many ways is as good of a miracle as can be asked for,” Heinz added.