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Longview church officials hail sainthood for Pope John Paul II

By Angela Ward award@news-journal.com
July 5, 2013 at 11 p.m.


Catholic and Protestant ministers alike Friday were hailing the news Pope John Paul II would be made a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Francis approved sainthood for the Polish-born pontiff, who died eight years ago. He also decided to waive Vatican rules to canonize Pope John XXIII, who led the church during a five-year period of reorganization, until 1963.

"What most people recognized about Pope John Paul II, whether or not they are Catholic, is that his life and teachings never contradicted each other," said the Rev. Xavier Pappu, pastor of St. Matthew's Catholic Church in Longview. "He worked very hard to spread God's messages throughout the world."

The Rev. Roy James, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Longview, agreed John Paul's life followed his teachings.

"The most powerful image for me of him has always been when he went to the jail cell of the man who had shot him and they prayed together," James said. "He was obviously a major presence in Christianity."

In approving the sainthood of John XXIII, even without a second miracle attributable to the pontiff, Francis is taking the rare step of bypassing the Vatican bureaucracy. He also said a Vatican committee had accepted the validity of a second miracle attributed to the intercession of John Paul.

Both are expected to be canonized before the end of the year. Dec. 8 has been floated as a possible date, given it's the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a major feast day for the church.

Polish prelates are pressing for October to mark the 35th anniversary of John Paul's election, but Vatican officials have suggested that would be too soon to organize such a massive event.

To anyone who has been paying attention, Vatican authorities said, Francis' decision to canonize John Paul and John XXIII should come as no surprise: The Jesuit was made a cardinal by John Paul and is very much a pope of the Second Vatican Council, the ground-breaking church meetings that brought the Catholic Church into the modern world. And John XXIII opened Vatican II a year before his death in 1963.

But John Paul, who was pope from 1978-2005, revolutionized the papacy, traveling the world and inspiring a generation of young Catholics to be excited about their faith.

Pappu, a native of India, counts himself among that group, and said he once had the opportunity to co-celebrate Mass with John Paul in his home country.

"I was a new priest at that time, and it was a very exciting opportunity for me," Pappu said. "His personal holiness was an inspiration to me."

John Paul was the first Polish pope and the first non-Italian in 455 years - a legacy that continued with the German-born Benedict XVI and Argentine Francis.

On the anniversary of John Paul's death this year, Francis prayed at the tombs of John Paul and John XXIII - an indication that he sees a great personal and spiritual continuity in them.

The Rev. Justin Braun, a 2001 graduate of Pine Tree High School who was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in June 2012, said John Paul was a major influence in the lives of many younger Catholics and in his own personal vocation to the priesthood.

"I'm very excited about this announcement," Braun said. "Pope John Paul II brought a renewed sense of vitality to the Catholic Church and was universally beloved and respected. He reminded us that we're all called to live a life of holiness and love."

It wasn't only Catholics who recognized John Paul as one of the best-known Christian witnesses of the late 20th century. Most other Christians also had great respect for him. Dr. Billy Graham, the famous Baptist evangelist, once said John Paul was the most influential voice for morality and peace in the world in the past 100 years.

Pope Emeritus Benedict put John Paul on the fast track for possible sainthood when he dispensed with the traditional five-year waiting period and allowed the beatification process to begin weeks after John Paul's death. Benedict was responding to chants of "Santo Subito!" - or "Sainthood Immediately" - which erupted during John Paul's funeral.

He was beatified in May 2011, after a Vatican committee credited him with interceding to cure a French nun, Marie Simon-Pierre Normand, of Parkinson's disease, the same malady from which the pontiff suffered.

The second miracle attributed to John Paul is said to be the healing of a woman who prayed to the pope on the day of his beatification.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis was eager to canonize John XXIII.

"Despite the absence of a second miracle, it was the pope's will that the sainthood of the great pope of the Second Vatican Council be recognized," he said. But he played down the fact Francis had bypassed a second miracle. "There are lots of theologians who in fact discuss the principle of the fact that it's necessary to have two distinct miracles."

The canonization announcement reflects the priorities of this unique pontificate, which has already broken so many rules and traditions, from Francis' decision to shun papal vestments to his housing arrangements, living in the Vatican hotel rather than the stuffy Apostolic Palace.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Vatican analyst, said the decision to canonize both popes was a "brilliant move to unify the church," given that each has his own admirers and critics.

"With the joint announcement, Pope Francis is saying we do not have to choose between popes. We can honor and revere both as holy men who served the church well in their times," he wrote on his blog for the National Catholic Reporter newspaper.

<em>- News-Journal wire services contributed to this story.</em>

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