Filipinos flock to St. Peter's square a day before the double canonization. Photo by Jerome P. Villanueva

VATICAN CITY – The day before the unprecedented double canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII, Filipino priests and laymen here recalled memories of the two well-loved popes.

Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican Mercedes Tuason told the Varsitarian the joy of Filipinos ahead of the canonization rites was felt in Rome, adding that Filipinos really have a special affection for the late Polish pontiff, John Paul II, who visited the country in 1981 and 1995.

“Filipinos are all very happy, talagang parang premyong-premyo sa atin ‘yan,” the 84-year-old ambassador to the Holy See said.

Fr. Domingo Salonga, spiritual director of Pontificio Collegio Filippino, the home of Filipino diocesan priests studying in Rome, said the two soon-to-be-saints are examples of sanctity today.

Salonga, one of the priests tasked to distribute holy communion during the canonization rites, attributed the fast-track canonization of Pope John Paul II to the cry of the people during the Polish pontiff’s funeral in 2005.

“During his funeral the people were crying out and shouting ‘Il Grande,’ (The Great) ‘Santo subito’ (Sainthood now). According to historians, these cries were heard the last time [at] the start of seventh century, during the funeral of Gregory the Great,” the 62-year-old priest from Malolos said.

The canonization of Pope John Paul II–who was instrumental to the fall of communism and revitalized the Church through events such as the World Youth Day celebrations–comes after two miracles attributed to his intercession. A French nun named Sister Marie Simon-Pierre Normand prayed to the late pope and was cured from Parkinson’s disease, paving the way for beatification. Floribeth Mora Diaz of Costa Rica, meanwhile, recovered from a brain aneurysm. The second miracle allowed the Vatican to proceed with canonization.

Tagle: Emulate holiness of two 'pope-saints'

When asked why Pope Francis allowed the sainthood of Pope John XXIII to push through even without an approved second miracle, Fr. Salonga said: “If you look at the tradition of the Church, there are so many miracles that happened with the actions of John XXIII, the proof of these is the Second Vatican Council and he is known to everyone as the ‘Papa Buono,’ a good pope.”

Fr. Salonga downplayed the idea that the double canonization was a move to unite Catholic conservatives and liberals. The joint papal canonization is significant because John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council, while John Paul II is considered a “son” of that council, which modernized the Church, he said.

Fr. Erwin Balagapo, a 43-year-old Leyte diocesan priest, pointed out that canonization is a solemn act of the Catholic Church that recognizes the holiness of a person.

Balagapo, who is studying in an institute named after the Polish pope, the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, added: “Canonization is an invitation for the lay people to imitate the saints as they imitated the Lord.”

Papal encounters

Salonga described Pope John XXIII, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, as a “very good” and “smiling pope.”

“Even during the first days of his pontificate, I think he made an impact in the Philippines. Even though he reigned as pope for less than five years, the people really loved him–not only the people of Italy but even the people in the Philippines, seeing how simple and open to everyone he was,” he said.

Filipinos witness double canonization in Rome

Salonga said the first time he met Pope John Paul II was during the consistory of the cardinals in 1984.

“When I came to the room, Cardinal Vidal was receiving his greeters. I saw it was packed so I transferred to the next room. And it happened to be the room for Cardinal Decourtray, who was the archbishop of Lyon, France that time. So, John Paul II entered the room and he asked me, ‘Are you French? Why are you with the French group?’ So, I told him I was a [diocesan] priest of Notre Dame de Vie, a secular institute, which is why I joined the group that greeted Cardinal Decourtray. John Paul II talked to me in French,” he recalled.

Tuason, a lay leader before she became ambassador in 2009, said she was able to kiss Pope John Paul II’s hand and kept a photo of that moment as souvenir.

Fr. Joselin San Jose, the Filipino chaplain of Santissima Trinita Church in Monza, Italy, said he was a “Pope John Paul II baby,” because he was born in 1978, the year when then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla assumed Papacy.

Salonga said the double canonization would bring Filipinos closer to the heart of the Church. “The challenge for us in the Philippines is to be able to offer a saint, who is not a martyr, a man or a woman who lived the faith in the routine of everyday life,” he said.

Balagapo, meanwhile, said the canonization should serve as a reminder to Filipinos that “holiness is not an extraordinary or impossible desire.”

Festive mood

Retailers of canonization souvenirs have taken advantage of the surge of pilgrims, selling commemorative items such as rosaries, paintings, mugs, calendars, busts and a commemorative medal for two euro (P120) each.

Tagle: Emulate holiness of two 'pope-saints'

In a chance meeting, Postmaster General Josefina de la Cruz said she personally gave Pope Francis stamps bearing his image. The Philippine Postal Corp. will soon issue gold-foiled stamps commemorating the historic double papal canonization, she said.

Tuason said a wide screen would be set up at the Pontificio Collegio Filippino, which Pope John XIII personally blessed, to allow more Filipinos in Rome to witness the canonization rites.

Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle will preside over a Eucharistic celebration at Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, simultaneously coinciding with the canonization rites at 10 a.m. (4 p.m., Manila time), she added.

Philippine government officials expected to attend the rites include Commission on Audit Chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan, Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is also expected to attend the double canonization. Jerome P. Villanueva


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