Filipinos gather in St. Peter's Square to join the unprecedented double canonization. Photo by Jerome P. Villanueva

VATICAN CITY – JOINING almost a million pilgrims, Filipinos trooped to St. Peter’s Square and carried Philippine flags with joy and excitement to witness the historic double canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.

Amid unpredictable weather, about 800,000 people, including those in 90 official delegations, flocked to Vatican City last April 27 to take part in the rare event dubbed as “day of four popes.” Pope Francis led the canonization rites for two of his predecessors, with his immediate predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, concelebrating the Holy Mass for the Second Sunday of Easter.

Pope Francis formally raised the two pontiffs to the altar of saints through the invocation of the Holy Spirit and recitation of the canonization formula.

The Pope also kissed the vessels containing relics of the two new saints, which were placed before the altar prior to the Canonization Mass.

Pope Francis, in his homily, hailed Pope St. John XXIII for heeding the Holy Spirit in convoking the Second Vatican Council that modernized the Church, and Pope St. John Paul II for being the “Pope of the Family.”

“John XXIII and John Paul II were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross; they did not despise the flesh of their brother, because they saw Jesus in every person who suffers and struggles. These were two men of courage, filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit, and they bore witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy,” the Pope said.

Pope Francis also cited the two new saints for cooperating with the Holy Spirit in “renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries.”

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Fr. Gregory Gaston, rector of Pontificio Collegio Filippino, the Filipino college in Rome, told the Varsitarian that the rare double canonization was a moment of grace for the entire Catholic Church. “Napakaganda, naging two-by-two [papal event] ito. That shows unity of the Church to each one of us,” he said, adding that Filipinos should follow the examples of the newly declared saints.

Houston-based Bodette Pacis, 43, wept when Pope Francis pronounced the solemn formula for canonization. “Nararamdaman ko ‘yung Holy Spirit. Nag-open up ‘yung heaven nu’ng na-declare na saint sila,” Pacis said.

Sixty-three-year-old Lolita Lemos, who lives in Tuscana, said she waited here since Saturday afternoon and even slept at the Vatican grounds. “Gusto kong nandito talaga ako, na everything ay mareceive ko sa kanya. Para bang newly born ako nu’ng dineclare siya (John Paul II) na saint,” Lemos said.

Msgr. Gary Noel Formoso, a Thomasian, said he was a seminarian at the Ecclesiastical Faculties when John Paul II visited the University of Santo Tomas during the World Youth Day celebrations in Manila in 1995.

“Ngayong santo na siya sana naman ay maraming ma-inspire sa kanyang buhay,” said the priest from the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia.

Praying for peace

The presence of various nationalities at the colonnaded St. Peter’s Square underscored the universality of the Church.

Fr. Roman Komaryczko, a native of Poland, said he was very thankful to God for giving his country a saint who broke the Italian line of papal succession, referring to the late Polish pontiff John Paul II. “It inspires all of us to be saints and to laugh on the fullness of our possibilities,” the Ukraine-based parish priest said.

Ukranian pilgrim Iryna Vorona said she came to Vatican together with fellow countrymen to wish for peace in their country amid the heightening Ukraine-Russia conflict. “I love John Paul II. [I went here] to pray for my country,” she said.

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Philippines joins celebration

Meanwhile, the Philippines also participated in the double canonization with a Eucharistic celebration presided by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

In his homily, the cardinal said the canonization of Pope John XXII and Pope John Paul II must serve as a call for everyone to live holy lives.

Tagle called on thousands of Filipino faithful to follow the humble and ordinary lifestyles of the two late pontiffs. “Do not say sanctity is far off and holiness is not relevant in our times. The celebration today is a loud declaration to the world that holiness is real,” he said.

Reflecting on the two pope-saints’ eagerness in pastoral service, Tagle also urged the faithful to be brave enough in preaching God’s message.

“Just like the two popes, enter the world. Do not be afraid to engage. Bring the values of Jesus, mercy of God and the holiness of Jesus,” he said.

Even though the faithful who attended the local celebration were not in Rome, they were still witnesses to the two new saints’ legacies, the cardinal said.

Tagle called the coliseum a “living relic” and a “blessed place,” since it was visited in 1981 by Pope John Paul II, who declared it a “colosseo of papal audiences.”

St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II

St. John XXIII, or Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, was born on Nov. 25, 1881 in Sotto il Monte, Italy. He served many positions in the Catholic Church, such as the president of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith during Benedict XV’s papacy. He was active in establishing relationships with other countries as apostolic visitor in Bulgaria and apostolic delegate to Turkey and Greece.

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He was elected by the College of Cardinals as the new pope in 1958.

On June 3, 1963, Roncalli died at the age of 81.

On Sept. 3, 2000, Pope John Paul II presided his beatification ceremony.

Even with only one miracle attributed to the late pope, Pope Francis immediately approved John XXIII for canonization last June 3, 2013, in time for his 50th death anniversary.

John Paul II or Karol Józef Wojty?a was born in Wadowice, Poland on May 18, 1920.

After answering the call to priesthood and holding administrative posts, he was elevated to the College of Cardinals in 1967, becoming the youngest cardinal in the consistory.

His service to the Church took a leap when he was elected as pope on Oct. 16, 1978.

John Paul II held the seat of the papacy for almost 27 years.

St. John Paul II drew large crowds during major religious ceremonies such as the Great Jubilee of the Year in 2000, which attracted more than eight million pilgrims.

He was also known for establishing the World Youth Day (WYD) with 19 celebrations held during his papacy. In 1995 and 1981, the country was blessed to have been visited by the late Pontiff.

John Paul II proclaimed 1,338 blesseds and 482 saints, earning the title “saint-maker.”

Despite suffering from Parkinson’s disease, John Paul II continued his service until his death on April 2, 2005.

The day of canonization coincided with Divine Mercy Sunday, which Pope St. John Paul II instituted to propagate the Divine Mercy devotion of compatriot Sister Faustina.

Pope St. John Paul II’s feast day is set on October 22, while Pope Saint John XXIII’s is on October 11

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