Express Lane

by Juan L. Mercado

Multiple “historical  firsts”  explain why all  roads  lead to Rome on April  27 — where  all hotels have been booked solid. Institutions like Pontifio Collegio Filipino on Via Aurelia are similarly crammed. Pope Francis will  declare, on that day Popes  John XXIII and  John Paul II  as saints.

It will  the first double papal  canonization in two millennia. Rites have been  simplified.  “Sobriety is the order of the day,” Italian daily La Stampa reported.  There’ll be a prayer vigil in 11 Rome churches  the night before. Tapestries to be used are from the prior beatifications. “The low-frills style of Pope Francis is having an effect,” notes Associated Press .

Only 250,000 can cram into Piazza di  San Pietro and Via della Conceliazone. Thus, giant screens have been set up in Rome and provision made for the world press.  The two women, whose healing are attributed to John Paul II’s intercession, will be present.

Will  Pope emeritus Benedict XVI attend the rites?  He  became the first pontiff to resign since 1415 AD when Pope Gregory stood down to avoid schism.  If  he does, two living and two deceased popes will  figure in one historic ceremony.

Francis splices, in one ceremony, two schools of thought on what a pope should be. A  simple parish priest figure, like Angelo Roncali of Italy and a globe-trotting  superstar like Karol Wojtyla  of  Poland. It’s  “a masterstroke  that’s  already stirred dissent,” Agence France Presse reports.

“Reform the church?”, asked then  Archbishop Angelo Roncalli. “Is such a thing possible?”  He was  the son of Italian sharecroppers who couldn’t afford the bus fare to his ordination.  But in  1958, the nearly 77 year old Roncalli was elected by wary cardinals who pegged  him a transition pope.

Humor has always been handmaid of sanctity. ”Anybody can be pope,”   Roncalli joshed.   “The proof is I’ve become one.”  Asked how many people worked in the Vatican,  he deadpanned, “About half of them.”  In his Hospital of the Holy Spirit visit,  the flustered  mother superior introduced herself. “Holy  Father,” she said, “I’m the superior of the Holy Spirit.” You’re very lucky,”  was the reply. “I’m only the vicar of Christ.”

As John XXIII, Roncalli, stunned many by calling out: Apertura a sinistra. “Open the windows and let the  fresh air in.” Few  foresaw that the Second Vatican Council, which  he convened, would jolt a sclerotic church to it’s founding fervor.

John XXII died in 1963 before the Council ended. What emerged recast the church as the “People of God, with full participation of all the baptized, yet always in need of reform”. Council advisor Father Joseph Ratzinger defined this as perennis reformatio . He repeated that theme as Benedict XVI.

Vatican II reached out to other faiths and built bridges to a world hurtling into a digital age. It asserted it’s “prophetic role”, smudged by cozy accommodation with assorted dictators.

“I have the  bishops by their balls,” Ferdinand Marcos scoffed before Pope John Paul II came to the Philippines  in  January 1981. Marcos  touted  cosmetic lifting of martial law . Imelda decked out the Coconut Place for the  pontiff. But John Paul politely declined and  lodged instead  at the sparse nunciature in Pasay City.

“Even in exceptional conditions the state can not claim to serve the common good when human rights are not safeguarded”, John Paul II told a poker-faced Marcos and cronies  in his January 17, 1981 speech at Malacañang Palace.

Then, he went on to Luneta where he beatified now St. Lorenzo Ruiz, then flew to Bacolod. There, he  pressed for an end to exploitation of sacadas. “This is war,” fumed a Negros sugar planter.

John Paul returned in 1995 to preside over World Youth Day where over four  million flooded to Luneta attended the closing Mass. That’s the current world record for the “largest papal gathering in Catholic history.”

On entering St. Peter’s Square in May 1981,John Paul II was shot four times by Mehmet Ali Ağca who was sentenced to life.

The Pope forgave Ağca.  At John Paul’s request, he was pardoned by Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, and was deported to Turkey in June 2000.

The rule books say five years must pass after a person’s death before even a  beatification process can begin. it took 341 years for  Pedro Calungsod of the Visayas to be canonized and 28  years for St. Therese of Liseux, France.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta  was beatified in October 2003 – less than two years after her death. John Paul II  allowed the immediate opening of her canonization cause. Seen in this context, the April 27 rites for John XXIII and John Paul II are in the express lane.

This February, the Archdiocese of Cebu submitted to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, in the Vatican, the conclusion of a three year study into the life of Bishop Teofilo Camomot .  The late prelate was known to hock even his pectoral cross to help the poor.  Msgr. Dennis Villarojo has been named as postulator for the beatification process.

At  the end of John Paul’s funeral mass in 2005, throngs chanted Santo Subito. What were they really saying in the demand for “Saint Now”?, asked Chicago Tribune’s Kenneth Woodward,“They were crying out that in Karol Wojtyla, they saw someone who lived with God and lived with us”.

In over 27 years, as 263rd   successor to Peter the Fisherman,  John Paul II  traveled the world, bringing to men and women the gospel, beyond all geographical boundaries.” He crossed  “continents of the spirit, often far from one another and set against each other … to make room in the world for peace of Christ. “Truly he has been Pontifex, a builder of bridges in a world that too often erects walls and divisions.”


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