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Father Muench Says...

New saints for our time.. for the ages

July 17, 2013

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

I was so pleased to learn that Pope Francis has opened the way to move the cause for Pope John XXII – already beatified – to canonization as a saint.

Since the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII has been my favorite saint.  I considered him a saint long before his beatification.  I thank God that Pope John will now be officially recognized as the saint that he is.
Most of you know his story.  He was elected pope at the time of the death of Pope Pius XII.  At 77, Pope John was considered by many to be too old to be elected – yet he was. 

At the time of his election, many thought of him as an interim pope so they expected little to happen during his papacy.  Instead, a great deal happened. Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council that profoundly changed the face of the Catholic Church.

I remember so well the opening of the council. Pope John called upon the Holy Spirit to bring about a new Pentecost, to throw open the windows of the Church.

Indeed, the council was a new and wonderful Pentecost. 

Pope John did not seem like a radical person yet, he made it possible for the Church to open up to the world in many ways.

His vision led to a whole new openness in the Church’s relationship to its own people (the Council called them the People of God) – and the world.

There were new liturgical changes, a new spirit of ecumenism and a challenge for the Church to deal with many important concerns in the life of the Church.

I was privileged to attend the beatification of Pope John XXIII in September of 2000.  Father Tim Soucy and I we were beginning our stay in Rome at the sabbatical Program at the North American College and arrived in the city the day before the ceremony honoring Pope John.

For me, it continues to be a great memory.  It was the first time I attended a papal Mass in St. Peter’s Square and I was totally impressed. People were everywhere; the square was filled and the crowds flowed down the Avenue Conciliazione.  It was a beautiful day, that I remember – in fact, I remember that it was very hot.

I have also learned that in the upcoming canonization ceremony that Pope John Paul II will also be declared a saint.  So this ceremony will be very unique.

Pope John XXIII, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope when he was 77 years old. His papacy extended from October, 1958 until June, 1963 – five years.  Pope John never traveled outside of the Vatican as Pope  yet, the whole world was to know about him and his council. They quickly discovered his gentle, humble spirit, his smiling face, his deep concern for all peoples, of all faiths and cultures.

Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, was elected pope when he was 58 years old and his papacy lasted for 27 years, from October, 1978 until April, 2005. He traveled throughout most of the world and he was well known in every land for his strong, even dynamic spirit. His challenging message touched people throughout the world – he did so much to make the world a better place.

Both of these popes had a profound influence on the Catholic Church in recent times.  Our present, Holy Father, Pope Francis has made a magnificent decision to honor them both with canonization – a well-deserved honor.
At the same time, Francis gives us a glimpse into his own ideals as Pope.  He shows us a deep concern for the people of this world – a readiness to reach out to them all in the spirit of Pope John Paul II.  He demonstrates to us his dedication to the Second Vatican Council in the spirit of Pope John XXIII.  

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