Cardinal Thomas Collins

Canadian bishops recall importance of John XXIII, John Paul II

By  Laura Ieraci, Catholic Register Special
  • April 30, 2014

ROME - The historic “Sunday of four popes” attracted more than 800,000 pilgrims — the largest turnout ever for a canonization Mass — including seven Canadian bishops.

“This is a unique event in history,” said Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix after the canonization. “Two popes in heaven — two new saints — and two popes here on Earth in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. I was very moved to experience this celebration.”

Benedict XVI, who knew St. John XXIII and worked closely for many years with St. John Paul II, was a concelebrant, along with Pope Francis and other cardinals and bishops.

In addition to Lacroix, Canada was represented by Toronto Cardinal Thomas Collins, Gatineau Archbishop Paul-André Durocher, Hamilton Bishop Douglas Crosby, Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine, St. Catharines Bishop Gerard Bergie and Hamilton Bishop-emeritus Anthony Tonnos.

A small Canadian government delegation was led by Veteran Affairs Minister Julian Fantino, who had met John Paul II during the late pope’s visits to Toronto.

Despite the huge turnout, the atmosphere was very prayerful, Lacroix remarked. “Joyful but prayerful,” said the archbishop of Quebec. “People wanted to celebrate but also to pray.”

Collins said that although the two new saints had “a different personality, different gifts, each one was devoted to our Lord.”

Collins had a few personal encounters with John Paul II. As Archbishop of Edmonton, he “met him up close” during an ad limina visit to Rome, where bishops give an account of their dioceses to the Holy Father.

“In those days you would have 15 minutes alone with the pope,” Collins said. “Fifteen minutes alone with a saint! There we are!”

As a ten-year old child, the Toronto archbishop said he remembered John XXIII as pope and being impressed “by such a gentle, loving person.”

“Both obviously were very holy men and I think each one shared the ministry as successor of Peter, but they did it according to the way God had made each one of them, the natural gifts that each had,” Collins said.

Lépine also remarked on the prayerful atmosphere, as well as the spirit of gratitude among the pilgrims. He said he has often met people who have prayed to the new saints, including one couple whose petition to then-Blessed John Paul II for a child was granted.

“It was important for me to be here for all those who could not come, to express their gratitude to the Church for them, and to bring back to them the hope that God is always at work in their lives and that they can pray to Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II,” he said.

Durocher said the canonizations of two 20th-century popes demonstrate that “the saints are no longer very foreign or very distant — they are very close and they are very modern and they are very bound up with my life.”

“This canonization is not just celebrating… great men of the past,” he said. “It’s about a movement in the Church right now that was initiated by John XXIII with the Second Vatican Council, that was picked up by John Paul II and now is being continued by Pope Francis.”

The three Quebec archbishops said they appreciated the reflections Pope Francis offered in his homily, calling John XXIII “the pope of openness to the Spirit” and John Paul II “the pope of the family.”

Lacroix said he regards the new saints as “extraordinary, giants of the Church,” who loved humanity, who were “men of the Church preoccupied by humanity’s “wellbeing, welfare and evangelization.”

Lacroix personally found the canonizations meaningful, especially that of John Paul II. At the end of August 1988, while still a deacon, Lacroix met John Paul II.

“I got to shake hands with him and asked him to bless me,” he said. “He took my two hands, and I told him, ‘Holy Father I will be a priest on Oct. 8, could you bless me?’

“He let go of my hands and he put his hand on my heart and he asked the Lord to bless me,” said Lacroix. “I don’t know why I didn’t’ have a heart attack. I got a beautiful picture of that also.”

(With files from Canadian Catholic News)

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