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Originally published Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 6:39 PM

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Sainthood for 2 popes part of vision for ‘big tent’

“The Catholic Church is big enough to encompass the devotees of John XXIII and John Paul II,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame.


The New York Times

By the numbers

• Vatican officials said Saturday that Pope Francis would preside over Sunday’s sainthood Mass, and Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI would concelebrate along with 150 cardinals and 700 bishops. It would be the first time Benedict has joined Francis in celebrating Mass in public since his resignation in 2013. Benedict attended the February ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica in which Francis installed 19 new cardinals, but as a spectator.

• About 600 priests will distribute Holy Communion in St. Peter’s Square and 210 deacons will distribute Communion to the throngs of people expected to line up along Via della Conciliazione, the main boulevard leading away from the square.

• 93 official delegations are attending the ceremony, including an estimated 24 heads of state.

The Associated Press

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VATICAN CITY — Pope John XXIII was the rotund Italian pontiff with a common touch, who told jokes, embraced the poor and became beloved as “the Good Pope.” To many liberal Catholics, he is still revered for the Second Vatican Council, the landmark event of the 1960s that sought to move the Roman Catholic Church into the modern age.

Pope John Paul II was the charismatic Polish pontiff who liked to sneak away from the Vatican to ski and who retooled the papacy in a new era of globalized media. His vision of a more rigid Catholicism made him a revered figure among many conservative Catholics suspicious of the liberalizing spirit introduced by John XXIII.

“The man who took the lid off and the man who tried to put it back on,” said Eamon Duffy, a professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Cambridge.

Now a new pope, Francis, is making his most public attempt to sew together the two men’s different legacies as he pushes his own vision of a church under a big tent. Francis will preside Sunday over a rare joint canonization of two predecessors and iconic figures of the 20th-century church who will be elevated to sainthood during a Mass in St. Peter’s Square.

For Francis, who has spent the first year of his papacy straddling the divisions within the church, this twinning allows him to deftly avoid elevating one man over the other and serves his broader agenda of de-emphasizing ideological battles as he tries to renew excitement among the faithful and reverse a steady decline in church attendance.

“The Catholic Church is big enough to encompass the devotees of John XXIII and John Paul II,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. “That is the message he is sending.”

The pairing has transformed the Mass into a global media event. Huge crowds are pouring into Rome, with estimates that hundreds of thousands of people — possibly more than 2 million — will fill St. Peter’s Square or watch the ceremony on more than a dozen large screens erected in piazzas across Rome. Portraits of John and John Paul have been draped on St. Peter’s Basilica, and souvenir shops are selling canonization trinkets.

“We love both popes,” said Antonio Rossi, 31, a teacher from Naples who walked with his girlfriend around the square Friday. “They are two figures who left a great mark on the Catholic Church. What is important is that they both become saints because that is how I perceive them in my life.”

Vatican officials have played down the political subtext of the ceremony, arguing that reducing the two former popes to a left-right political shorthand is inaccurate and cheapens what for many Catholics is a joyous and spiritual moment. The Rev. Thomas Rosica, who is working with the Vatican press office for the ceremony, disagreed with those who see the ceremony as a calculated gesture of reconciliation.

“Some would say that, but I wouldn’t go that far,” Rosica said.

The event has stirred considerable debate among many Catholics about the process of canonizing saints and about the legacies of the two former popes, especially John Paul. He is regarded as a defining figure of the 20th century, revered for his fight against Communism in Eastern Europe and admired by many for how he endured suffering during his long, public illness before his death in 2005.

But posthumously, criticism of his papacy has sharpened, for how his retrenchment of church power to the Vatican ultimately led to scandals, and for his failure to confront the clerical sexual-abuse scandal, even as evidence mounted of a widespread crisis. Some critics argue that his canonization has been wrongly fast-tracked or should not happen at all.

More than any pope, John Paul recognized the symbolic value of conferring sainthoods as he sought to spread Catholicism around the world, experts say. He canonized 482 saints, more than all his predecessors combined. To do this, he streamlined the canonization process, reducing to five years the waiting period after a person’s death before the canonization process can be initiated.

When John Paul died, his successor, Benedict XVI, waived the shorter waiting period and sped up the process so John Paul will now become a saint only nine years after his death. When Benedict unexpectedly resigned last year, the sainthood process for John Paul had largely been completed.

Francis himself has shown a willingness to use his own discretion in naming saints. This month, he waived the requirement of evidence of two miracles performed at the posthumous intercession of a candidate and declared three new saints from the Americas: a former Jesuit priest from Brazil and two leading Catholic figures from Canada.

With his folksy style, Francis is often compared to John XXIII, the son of a tenant farmer in northern Italy. The canonization process for John, who died in 1963, had been under way for decades but was slowed by his lack of the second required miracle. Francis intervened, waiving the requirement and pairing him with John Paul for Sunday’s event.

Despite the excitement among many Catholics, the precedent of canonizing popes worries Duffy and other experts. “Are we going to have every pope canonized now?” he asked.



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