Sunday, 4 May 2014

Canonisation: A New Hope

Do not be afraid!

Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum: Habemus Papam! Eminentissimum ac reverendissimum Dominum, Dominum Carolum Sanctæ Romanæ Ecclesiæ Cardinalem Wojtyła, qui sibi nomen imposuit Ioannis Pauli

I announce to you a great joy: We have a Pope! The Most Eminent and Reverend Lord, Lord Karol, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church Wojtyła,
Who takes to himself the name John Paul.

On October 16th 1978, thirteen months before I was born, the world was introduced to Pope John Paul II. In a time of uncertainty both within the church and among nations his first words rang out: "Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!". Almost thirty six years later on April 27th 2014, almost one million people crammed into every nook and cranny of Saint Peter's Square and it's surrounding streets to bear witness to the canonisation of man who inspired a generation of Catholics to love Christ and His Church. I was one of the faces in the crowd; Pope John Paul was and is my hero. I am still afraid, but he gives me hope.


My first memories of Pope John Paul II are of a kindly looking man, dressed in white, with a beaming smile. I was three years old when he made his historic visit to the United Kingdom and I believe these early impression were formed by the pictures I saw on television and the portraits hung in my church and home. He reminded me of my grandfather, Bampa Sid, another of my heroes who gave me hope and lived his life with a thoughtful and infectious smile. This resemblance was to last a lifetime, even to the end: Pope John Paul suffered from Parkinson's Disease and my grandfather suffered a stroke but neither lost that winning smile.

Life; but not as we know it

As a child, I gradually became aware of my identity as a Catholic. I was fascinated by the stories in the Gospel and tales of the saints; my Faith was nurtured both and home and in school; God, the Angels and the Saints were my friends. From time to time I would see Pope John Paul on television as he emerged from a plane, kissed the ground and embraced the people who had come to meet him. It was some how reassuring to know that he was out there, representing us and letting people know all about Jesus.

As I grew older, the feelings I had regarding God, the Angels and Saints became more fleeting but I was always able to remember that I once had them, even if I never experienced that childlike conviction. I began to embrace Christ and the Church with my mind, finding a source of great beauty which gave answers to the questions posed by the human condition. I became a student and disciple of Pope John Paul, listening to him as he encouraged us to develop a relationship with the risen Christ through his Church and the sacraments.

As a student, I became profoundly aware of the brokenness of the human condition in a personal and social sense. I found solace in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ, the only thing which gave meaning to what I observed in myself and the world. I was deeply struck by the witness given by the Pope in his teaching on morality and social justice and his example in taking up his own cross as he suffered with ill-health. In August 2000, I was fortunate enough to attend the Jubilee of Students, my first visit to the Vatican and Rome. I still recall the sense of wonder and awe the whole trip invoked within me; seeing Saint Peter's Basilica and piazza for the first time and feeling that I was home, descending into the Scavi to view the tomb of Saint Peter, drinking in the history and culture of the Church. My fondest memory however was getting a glimpse of Pope John Paul at a general assembly of students. The auditorium was silent as we eagerly anticipated his arrival. Slowly, the large doors opened and through it stepped a frail man, supported by a stick and two aides on either side. As the cheers went up, Pope John Paul seemed to gain strength, he left his aides behind and raised his stick above his head with both hands as he proceeded to encourage us to love Christ and build up his Church. Since that day, Pope John Paul II and Yoda have been inseparable in my mind.

As an adult, the actions, teachings and example of Pope John II accompany me on my pilgrimage through life. Besides his charismatic leadership and great witness of Faith, perhaps his greatest gifts to the Church are the Feast of Divine Mercy, the Catechism and selections of his writings which are beginning to evolve into a comprehensive Theology of the Body. I remember the sadness I felt at his death on April 2nd 2005 but I could not begrudge him his final rest - just like Yoda, he had earned it. The only Pope I had ever known was dead but in death as in life, he gave me hope.

Santo Subito!

So it was that on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27th 2014, I came to be half way up the Via della Conciliazione with four friends, surrounded by pilgrims from Poland, France, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Lithuania, Japan, Sardinia, Lebanon, the Ivory Coast, China, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Uruguay, The USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Portugal, Belgium and Ukraine (as evidenced from a sea of flags) at 5am, 5 hours early for Mass. I had been fortunate enough to pray the rosary at the tomb of Blessed Pope John Paul and the Divine Mercy chaplet at Santo Spirito in Sassia the day before for friends and family and now, slightly squashed and rather tired, I was attending a unique event in the history of the Church - the canonisation of two popes, St John XIII and St Pope John Paul II in the presence of two popes, Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

The actual rite of Canonisation occurs immediately before the Gloria and my friends and I found it to be extremely moving. Three petitions are presented to the Pope on behalf of the Church beseeching that the candidates be recognised as saints. The Pope responds to each petition by offering his own prayers to implore God's blessing. At the end of the second petition, the Pope invites the faithful to invoke the power of the Holy Spirit through the singing of the Veni, Creator Spiritus. Finally, the Pope pronounces the canonisation formula:

For the honour of the Blessed Trinity, the exultation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother Bishops, we declare and define Blessed John XVIII and John Paul II be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints, decreeing they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. [1]

Despite the early start, the cramped conditions and invasion of personal space, the whole event was one of heartfelt joy and celebration. There is something quite ethereal in the realisation that you have something in common with every single person in a crowd of one million people. Pope John Paul II had brought the majority of us together and though most of us were unable to speak to one-another in words, we were able to communicate via the sacraments, a common witness and our smiles.

"Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!"

I will always be a sinner and I am still afraid but I hope than one day, I will put aside my fear and rather than have them slightly ajar, I will open wide the doors to Christ.

Saint Pope John Paul, Pray for Us!


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