Photo: Banner shows new Saints John Paul II and John XXIII and Jesus during Mass of thanksgiving for canonization of new saints in St. Peter’s Square April 28. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
BY MSGR. THOMAS HAROLD
Msgr. Thomas Harold, pastor of St. Anne’s parish, Garden City, was in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday when Popes John XXIII and John Paul II were canonized. Here is his report from Rome:
We have just returned from the Second Sunday of Easter Mass and the Rite of Canonization on this Divine Mercy Sunday. A historic day and once in a lifetime experience for all the Church and for all us pilgrims who made the voyage from all different parts of the world. As Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II were canonized by Pope Francis, in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI, all of us at St. Peter’s and in the surrounding streets realized it was a day of special significance, not only for our Church, but also for the faith of each of us. It was a day of vibrant faith, encouraging hope, and love for the Lord and these two great saints who were so significant these past 50 years to our lives of faith.
The day began ominously with thick grey clouds and the threat of rain. Only a few drops came before heavy rains that have now come in the early evening. From the streets in all directions, the pilgrims in the very early hours began the trek to St.Peter’s. Some carried sleeping bags. Because the crowds were so large and forward progress became so slow even a mile away from our destination, the temptation to turn back was strong. Creative paths to St. Peter’s were sought. Some jumped fences or scaled walls, police whistles shrilly calling them back to supervised and safer ways. Our group of four, now split into two pairs, both fully determined to arrive at their desired spots, decided to cross to the other side of the Tiber and take a circuitous route. Soon, I and a fellow pastor found ourselves behind St.Peter’s in a high speed traffic tunnel, whisking dignitaries to a specially determined gate. Although we were more like the hundreds of thousand pilgrims, we did have blue tickets that allowed us to enter the same gate. Quickly we were ushered into the square by volunteers and police who numbered in the thousands.
Soon we found ourselves with about 5000 other priests in a section about 300 yards from the altar where Pope Francis would celebrate Mass. This long, windy odyssey to our seats was a first sign this day that God wanted us at this Mass. Caught in a throng of the Polish faithful at 7:30 a.m., it seemed we would never get to St. Peter’s. We were assured earlier in the week by beautiful and kind Sister of Mercy that Saint John Paul never forgets his priests. Sister’s words proved true despite the struggle of the early morning walk. The priests in this section were from many different places, many much younger than myself and many from Poland. It is true that our new saint has inspired many vocations. May he continue to do so.
St. Anne parishioners, Jon and Lilly Schwieger began their journey at 5:00 a.m. After their circuitous route, which also included a double crossing of the Tiber, they located themselves on the Via Della Conciliation, the main avenue leading directly into the Square. Jon and Lilly were in the midst of a large group of pilgrims, including religious sisters, South American pilgrims, and French youth. Able to see directly into the Square, they were assisted by large television screens and a strong sound system. Jon remarked about the enthusiasm of the youth, marked by their singing, and the reverence of everyone during the liturgy which so paralleled the Sunday Mass of his home parish.
Jon noted that this papal liturgy was shorter than the Easter Vigil liturgy at St.Anne’s. Perhaps Francis’ brevity of homily might encourage the local pastor! Jon commented,” The Mass book given to all, with its many translations, allowed all to follow easily and made us all feel as one in our participation. Language was no barrier.” Unity and a sense of oneness has been a theme of this pilgrimage and today’s liturgy.
After prayerful preparation for the celebration, the Rite of Canonization and Eucharistic Celebration began with a Litany to the Saints. As part of the preparation, the crowd enthusiastically greeted Pope Benedict XVI. During the litany we greeted Pope Francis who came at the end of the procession. Pope Francis greeted us as we are greeted at every Mass. Cardinal Angelo Amato then offered three direct and simple petitions to Pope Francis asking that JohnXXIII and John Paul II be enrolled among the Saints. Led by Francis, we prayed to God and invoked the Holy Spirit to be with us in this “matter of such importance.” For the Honor of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic Faith and the increase of Christian life, Pope Francis declared and defined two of his predecessors as Saints. After the presentation of the saints’ relics, the pilgrims sang in jubilation and thunderous applause followed again as Francis concluded the rite: “Decernimus.”
We so decree.
What a great and historical moment. Two popes of the lifetime of many of us present become Saints. Our present pope and his living predecessor, joining together in this celebration of the Eucharist at the Table of the Lord, lead us in rejoicing at this sacred event.
Still, the entire Liturgy was so familiar. The Mass at St.Peter’s today, the Second Sunday of Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, the Octave Day of Easter celebrated exactly as this Mass was celebrated in parishes all over the world. The presence of the Risen Lord proclaimed in the gospel; the gift of faith given to Thomas who doubted; the gift of peace given as the Lord breathed on the disciples. How both John XXIII and John Paul II allowed the Holy Spirit to work through them in their leadership as Vicar of Christ; in Vatican Council II; in the love, respect and defense of human life; in freeing people from tyranny and oppression. How Benedict brought the Holy Spirit of wisdom to the world in his writings and in his discernment for himself and the Church at the close of his Petrine ministry. How Francis has sought to allow the breath of the Risen and Glorified Lord to bring the joy of the Gospel in these first months of his papacy. And how Francis weaves today’s Gospel themes of forgiveness and mercy into his daily words.
Today is a day to be inspired by the holiness of our two new Saints. Today is a day to be challenged by the words and example of Francis. Today is a day to give thanks and praise to God for the gift of Easter, the gift of new life, the gift of mercy, the gift of personal holiness given by these two men to the whole world, the gift of our two new saints and the gift of our Church and all who serve and lead our Church.
As I stood and prayed with thousands of fellow pilgrims, how grateful I am for their faith and reverence, their joy and jubilant song and flag waving, their patience with one another as we stood in enormous lines, and our coming together in the name of the Risen, led in prayer by our Holy Father Francis as he sanctified our past and reminded us again of the need for faith, mercy and forgiveness as we seek to love and live lives filled with the breath of the Holy Spirit as our pilgrimage of faith and life continues. I am grateful for the grace and many prayers of this pilgrimage.