A worthy blessed

  • January 18, 2011
“Santo subito!” they shouted in the days after his death — “Sainthood now!” for Pope John Paul II.

If ever existed someone worthy of exemption from the Vatican’s five-year waiting period before initiating a cause for sainthood, Pope John Paul II was it.

That seemed obvious to thousands of mourners who filled the streets after John Paul’s death in 2005. So, too, was it clear to his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, who steered John Paul onto an express lane to sainthood that will bring the quickest beatification in the history of the modern Church.

Six years, 29 days after death, John Paul will be beatified on May 1 in a Vatican ceremony officiated by Benedict. Canonization requires a second verified miracle attributed to John Paul and, although nothing is certain, eventual sainthood is widely anticipated.

Yet naysayers abound. They object to hurrying the process and cite the flood of sexual abuse claims since John Paul’s death as reason to move slowly. Sadly, many abuse crimes did occur under John Paul’s watch before he toughened procedures. It’s also true that John Paul was misled by Legionaries of Christ founder Marcial Maciel, an abuser, chameleon and betrayer who charmed his way into Vatican inner circles and left a trail of harm.

But beatification is not a declaration of perfection. It is recognition of a life of extreme holiness, heroic virtues and unselfish works beyond that of ordinary people. It is acknowledgement of an unyielding faith that became manifest in a life worthy of imitation. John Paul II was clearly such a man.

The first non-Italian pope in more than four centuries, he flung open Vatican doors and journeyed out to the world (including three Canadian tours) to share his faith, drawing huge crowds at every stop. He preached universal love, forgiveness and charity to the poor in developing nations, to the oppressed in communist nations and to the wealthy in the West. He made history as the first pope to enter a synagogue and a mosque, advancing relations with Judaism and Islam.

Among young Catholics, he was particularly loved. At his papal installation in 1978 he told them: “You are the future of the world, you are the hope of the Church, you are my hope.” Then he created World Youth Day and made a profound connection with youth that grew stronger as he grew older. But as much as he epitomized how Catholics should live, his courageous and public yielding to the debilitating disease that killed him personified dignity and grace amidst suffering.

In explaining the speedy beatification, Pope Benedict said it was due to the “great fame of sanctity” exhibited by John Paul while he lived, when he died and after his death. He is a role model for all and worthy to be called blessed.

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