Four Popes, Two Saints

Sunday, 27 April, was a day of great joy throughout the Catholic world as we celebrated the Canonisations of two Popes – Pope John XXIII [1958-1963] and Pope John Paul II [1978 – 2005] – by Pope Francis in the presence of his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.


More than 1 million faithful gathered in St Peter’s Square and the adjoining streets to participate in this unique ceremony which brought people from all over the world, many of them led by their heads of State or governments. Rome’s city government erected large TV screens in different parts of the city so that those who couldn’t get into St Peter’s Square or the Via della Conciliazione could watch the ceremony in safety.


At the start of the ceremony Pope Francis proclaimed his predecessors to be Saints after which the Mass proceeded in the normal way with several hundred cardinals, bishops and priests concelebrating.


The SMA House in Rome welcomed many visitors – from Benin Republic, Egypt, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Morocco, Poland, South Africa… Our photo shows SMA Frs Francois Gnonhossou (General Councillor, from Benin), Herve Abou (from the Ivory Coast and working in the Spiritual Year Centre in Benin) and James Shimbala (from Tanzania, Vice Superior of the Great Lakes District-in-formation).

The only diocesan pilgrimage from Ireland was from Killaloe, led by Bishop Kieran O’Reilly SMA and V Rev Albert McDonnell. SMA and Ferns diocesan priests joined the Killaloe pilgrims for a Thanksgiving Mass in St Peter’s Basilica during their weeklong pilgrimage. They are, from left, Frs Eamonn Finnegan SMA, Albert McDonnell, Tim Cullinane SMA, Frank Murphy (Ferns), Billy Flynn (Ferns), Bishop O’Reilly SMA and Tom Curran SMA.


It was an early rise for all in the SMA as we left the House at 4.25am in order to be as close as possible to the Altar for the three hour ceremony.

EF-at-dawn-St-Peters-SqPope Francis paid tribute to the two popes in his sermon, saying that although they lived through the “tragic events” of the 20th century “they were not overwhelmed by them”.

Fr Eamonn Finnegan poses for a photo at 6.15am in St Peter’s Square.

“For them, God was more powerful,” he said.

Frs-Cullinane-and-MawdsleyIn 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. 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 Vatican had been under pressure from the Catholic faithful to make Pope John Paul II a saint, a wish that was granted in just nine years, an unusually short canonisation process.

Fr Tim Cullinane [in Rome for a meeting from his work in Nigeria] poses with Fr Donbosco Mawdsley [completing a Doctorate in Canon Law] after the three-hour ceremony concluded.

Only one miracle out of the two required to be canonised has been performed in the name of Pope John XXIII, but his life was deemed holy enough by Pope Francis, who waived the second miracle.

Two miracles are credited in Pope John Paul II’s name. A French nun was cured of Parkinson’s disease, and a woman from Costa Rica was cured of a brain aneurysm.

St-John-Paul-IIThe Vatican said the largest group at the ceremony were Polish. And the Square was a sea of red flags and Solidarinosc flags, reminding everyone of the essential part Saint John Paul II played in the downfall of atheistic communism.

The priest, archbishop and cardinal from Krakow was a son of his country, filled with a strong faith which bore testing in the Second World War St-John-XXIIIand under the Russian occupation of his country for many decades after. But he never flinched in his proclamation of the gospel and confounded his opponents by his arguments.

As Pope he reached out to people of other faiths, particularly seeking to mend the terrible wound with the Jewish people, our fathers in the faith. During his final years when his body was wracked with weakness Saint John Paul II continued to give witness to the value of suffering, for Christ’s sake.

But the people of Bergamo, in the north of Italy, also turned out to honour their beloved John XXIII, the man who opened the windows of the Church and, without whom, we would not have the Church we have today. Would that the Spirit Saint John XXIII prayed for when he called the Second Vatican Council was allowed to blow as He wills. But with Pope Francis perhaps the Lord is ‘doing a new thing’, in the spirit of St John XXIII hopes for the Second Vatican Council.

Pope--FrancisDignitaries at the event included King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium, and the presidents of the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy, and the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.

At the conclusion of the Mass the Holy Father greeted the different delegations. Some of them obviously relished the possibility of using the ‘photo op’ as a way of indicating the approval of the Pope for the way they conduct their affairs at home.

Some of those attending have unenviable records – impoverishing their people by looting the state coffers, promoting abortion policies, repressing opposition voices through unlawful detention. How it must have embarassed the Holy Father to have to shake hands with such people!

St-Peters-Sq-afterwards-wiOnce the formalities were over Pope Francis was off around the Square and, to the consternation of the security and TV people, down the Via della Conciliazione to greet the hundreds of thousands who waited in the hope of getting a glimpse of the Pope as he waved to one and all.

Fr Hugh Lagan SMA (on mission in South Africa) is pictured in the Square on Monday morning.

At one stage someone threw what looked like a pullover into the Popemobile. The Pope caught it, turned to the thrower and in Italian said “for me?”. The reply obviously was ‘Yes’. To which the Pope replied “Thanks” and gave a thumbs up sign. Such a simple gesture but so moving for that pilgrim, one he or she will never forget.

Fr-Francis-Rozario-SMAThroughout the trip around the Square and down the Via della Conciliazione there was a wonderful carnival athmosphere, made all the more ‘enjoyable’ by the different singing of different pilgrim groups.

Eventually Pope Francis reached the end of the Via della Conciliazione and the Popemobile turned right but the TV cameras stationed down there couldn’t follow him as the tarpaulin shielding them from the breeze blocked their view! Again, such a normal thing to happen. But nothing is ‘normal’ with this Pope. He walks surely in the footsteps of Saint John XXIII seeking to release more powerfully that Spirit which began to blow at the Second Vatican Council.

Papa Francesco, Ad Multos Annos!

Pray for our Holy Father

Fr Francis Rozario (left, General Councillor) arranged the tickets for the SMA pilgrims and shepherded them to St Peter’s Square on the morning of the Canonisation Mass. Many thanks Fr Francis.

Previous articleSMA Formation Commission meets in Rome
Next articleNo more room for explanations, let alone excuses – Cardinal Onaiyekan