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A day of four popes: John Paul II and John XXIII canonised

27 April 2014

7:30 PM

27 April 2014

7:30 PM

To have one pope canonise another is remarkable; to have two popes canonise two popes (well, one was looking on but you see what I mean) is a marvel. These events are always a bit mindblowing by sheer dint of numbers – BBC reports estimated that a million people were present – but in terms of spectacle, the day of four popes is something else.

I was in St Peter’s Square myself when Pope Francis was inaugurated; I was there too for the funeral of Pope John Paul II (me and about three million Poles) and I can vouch that these events are as ebullient as they seem from outside, invested with colossal good humour and attended by the curious as well as the devout. What you don’t observe until you’re there is the steely determination of the nuns present to get a decent view; they stop at nothing. And you have to feel for the unfortunates who have the job of policing a devout but determined crowd: not just the Swiss guards, who are just fabulous, but the assorted police and military of  the city and the state.

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It’s only at events like these that you get a real sense of the catholicity of the Catholic church; and we saw that today – the flags of every nation, every kind of face under the sun. Globalisation can be a really dreary thing in practice, whereby young people from all over the world have exactly the same kind of look; well, in Rome, it’s the reverse. There are religious orders and communities in every kind of habit and dress and demeanour; Franciscans, Dominicans, Benedictines, bishops, priests, monsignori, eastern Christians, Armenians, Copts, you name it. Everyone else looks a bit tame. For outsiders – and for some layfolk – it must look like Hogwarts; from inside it looks like all the hidden and diverse bits of the church are brought together inside the arms of St Peter’s – which is, when you think about it, precisely the purpose of the architecture of the square. It’s easy, in these circumstances, to see how the Vatican can become isolated from the realities of life in less favoured parts of the church.

Quite a lot has been made, quite rightly, of Pope Francis’s shrewdness in canonising Pope John XXIII as well as his predecessor but one. They made quite different contributions to the church. I was there, in fact, when the crowd was shouting Santo Subito – demanding canonisation – at the funeral of Pope John Paul II and plainly it wasn’t a spontaneous thing so much as an organised one. But he was genuinely an historic pope, an extraordinary man in extraordinary times. I do think, like his critics, that he should have done more, sooner, to deal with the abuses of the Legionaries of Christ founder, Marcial Maciel, but it doesn’t diminish his transformative effect on the papacy. Pope John XXIII was a far greater pope; I remember seeing his benign image in the homes of the elderly relations I visited as a child. The approach of the church to the world, and every Catholic’s experience of the church was changed as a result of the Second Vatican Council. Mostly for the better. Even now its documents are worth reading.

But it’s also interesting to see the personalities of the two living popes in close proximity. It’s been striking how much the cult of pope Francis has been seen as a zero sum game; if you like Francis, you deplore Benedict; Francis the nice church, Benedict the nasty church. Except it’s not like that. Francis has made, of course, telling criticisms of capitalism but it was Benedict who, in his remarkable encyclical on globalisation and economic development, Caritas in Veritate, observed that ‘the ultimate capital to be safeguarded is man’. They couldn’t be less like as personalities – whatever the opposite of touchy-feely is, that’s pope Benedict – but there’s no discordance there. It was good to see them together.

I can see that when Pope Francis finally dies there’ll be much the same calls for his canonisation – at least if he carries on as he’s going – but I rather hope this is the last canonisation of a pope for a century or two. There was indeed a good 500 years between the canonisation of Pius V and Pius X in the early twentieth century. Making someone a saint is simply formal recognition that they are in heaven and requiring the universal church to venerate them. But other popes were plainly saintly or plainly forces for good – Leo XIII, in spades – without the official designation. It shouldn’t be a perk of the papacy.

What today has done, though, is remind us of the sheer catholicity of the Catholic church –  of its feat, more prized today than at any other period, of providing diversity in unity, of furnishing a global, multinational body with institutional unity and coherence. It’s also a reminder that faith is something that makes for happiness, kindly fellow feeling, exuberance and goodwill. The usual British take on religion is almost exactly the opposite.

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Show comments
  • SonOfSands

    I’ll take Francis as the head of my church rather than a puppet Queen any day.

  • http://www.DNotice.org/ Dean Jackson

    It’s amazing how blind to reality people can be! For those still in the dark, the Vatican (and your political parties) were co-opted by Marxists over 100 years ago by Marxists, hence the reason why Moscow & allies resigned the pedophile-tasked Benedict and brought on board the “fresh face” of Francis who has done absolutely nothing to bring to a stop Communist agent priests from abusing Catholic children.

    • SonOfSands

      The above is a clear example of why you should not sniff glue…..

      • http://www.DNotice.org/ Dean Jackson

        “The above is a clear example of why you should not sniff glue…..”

        If you say so, COMRADE.

        By the way, how are things in Moscow? I’m so sorry LRP strategists were forced into invading the Ukraine in order to stop the unapproved demonstrations that swept the nation, resulting in the toppling of hundreds of statues to Lenin that were supposed to have been toppled 23-years ago! When do you think Russians will topple the 99% of statues to Lenin that exist in nearly every village, town and city? The few statues that were taken down back in 1990-92 (for PR purposes aimed at a misinformed West) were lovingly disassembled and placed in museums or parks.

        • SonOfSands

          I’m in no way a communist. I just think you’re a deluded conspiracy theorist who needs to spend less time on the internet and get out of the house. It’s lovely outside today friend :)
          Unless of course, Dean Micheal Jackson you’re posting from a (secure) hospital wing……..

          • http://www.DNotice.org/ Dean Jackson

            “I’m in no way a communist.”

            The I suggest you re-read my comment, which proofs went right over your head!

            • SonOfSands

              Listen son. Go out and have a beer, pull a girl/boy whatever. You’re living in a fantasy land. If that doesn’t snap you out of it I suggest you seek the advice of a mental health expert.

              • Jackthesmilingblack

                The answer to the problems that beset mankind. Have a beer.

  • CharlietheChump

    One is too many. Never mind wimmin bishops, Anglicans should dispense with the Archbish of Cant and all his little bishops as well.

  • Mike Purves

    When Benedict pops his clogs and some nun is then miraculously cured of PMT or something, we’ll have the ultimate career arc – from Wehrmacht anti-aircraft gunner to saint. It will take some beating.

  • Mike Purves

    This is a a posthumous Catholic equivalent of shoving ex-Prime Ministers into the Lords. They’ll have to do it for every future dead Pope, which rather devalues the whole concept.

    • http://www.DNotice.org/ Dean Jackson

      “They’ll have to do it for every future dead Pope, which rather devalues the whole concept.”

      That’s the purpose of the exercise, to further weaken the Catholic Church by this imbecilic canonization spectacle.

      See my comment above for more…

  • monty61

    The usual intolerant lot will post their abuse as always, but this was a lovely piece. Thanks Melanie.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    I have prayed at the tombs of both these Popes, now Saints, and am the better for it.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      I already had you pegged as a gullible Muppet.

  • Bonkim

    Humbug – Pageantry of the Roman Empire re-invented under the Holy Order.

  • Ron Todd

    He criticized capitalism without recognising that it was capitalism that has brought millions out of poverty. They are never shy about displaying the disproportional amount of wealth the church has.

    • Adam C

      Argh. Go and read what he says, he actually recognises the good capitalism has done…

  • AndrewMelville

    The colossal arrogance of the Roman Church in full display. Love the hats though.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Can you believe the number of gullible Muppets that fall hook, line and rapture for this bit of theatre? Over-dressed little ponce and former member of the Hitler Youth. But enough about Pope Bennie.

    • John Lea

      Idiot.

    • The Laughing Cavalier

      A simplistic, and puerile remark.

  • john

    But the whole thing is based on myths and fables! Do Saints get a better spot for eternity than the rest of us?

    • Bonkim

      Better seats at the Heavenly Plays. Can I apply to become a saint? Can get certificates of the miracles I have performed.

  • Mrs.JosephineHyde-Hartley

    “Even now its documents are worth reading.”

    I think there’s a bit more to it than that. As far as I know, all the docs from any time , any pope, are supposed to support and reflect each other perfectly. They’re all there on the vatican web-site for our perusal.

  • Mrs.JosephineHyde-Hartley

    Making someone a saint might be even more simply; formal recognition that they are in the heavenly bit of the universal church.

  • Mrs.JosephineHyde-Hartley

    Four popes.. it sounds like a pizza. Four popes pizza feast.

    They’ll be selling them in tesco’s next.

    • CharlietheChump

      I’ll have extra anchovies on mine.

  • HazelJMorris

    Except it’s not like that. Francis has made, of course, telling criticisms of capitalism but it was Benedict who, in his remarkable encyclical on globalisation and economic development, Caritas in Veritate, observed that ‘the ultimate capital to be safeguarded is man’. They couldn’t be less like as personalities – whatever the opposite of touchy-feely is, that’s pope Benedict – but there’s no discordance there. It was good to see them together. http://b54.in/9b1g

  • HazelJMorris

    It’s also a reminder that faith is something that makes for happiness, kindly fellow feeling, exuberance and goodwill. The usual British take on religion is almost exactly the opposite. http://b54.in/9b1g

    • Bonkim

      Faith makes one forget hunger, exploitation and abuse by God’s representatives on earth.

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        When you`ve got faith you don`t need proof. In fact the less proof the more worthy your faith becomes.

        • Bonkim

          Faith by definition – blind belief.

  • swatnan

    bogof, or two for the price of one.

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