On Sunday Pope Benedict XVI will preside at the beatification of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. Beatification is a step in the process by which the Church examines the lives of people to discern if they exhibited heroic virtue during their lives. The process also requires a confirmed miraculous event attributed to his or her intercession.
After Sunday’s ceremony, the former Pope will be referred to as Blessed Pope John Paul II. Sunday’s beatification is significant in that Pope John Paul died only six years ago. This came about because Pope Benedict XVI waived the usual five year waiting period before a canonization cause can be introduced. He did the same for Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Pope John Paul II himself simplified the canonization process in order to change the image of a saint. He wanted people to realize that sainthood was not restricted to medieval mystics but was a state that was achieved by ordinary Christians who struggled to lead virtuous lives while dealing as best they could with the realities of the tumultuous world in which we live.
Few would argue that Pope John Paul lived in tumultuous times. He completely changed the image of the Papacy bursting out of the walls of the Vatican as none before him had done. His travels took him not only to Catholic or Christian countries, but to nations where the gospel was virtually unknown. He saw the future in the youth of the world and reached out to them in unprecedented ways. He faced down Marxist materialism and made the Chair of Peter an international pulpit. Few would question his holiness which provided us all with a witness of how to live and how to die.
Some have raised questions about the appropriateness of his beatification at this time when some of his actions as Pope are still being scrutinized, but the fact that he lived a life of heroic virtue is difficult to deny. He also was an unflinching defender of the Faith.
The Church does not make saints. God does. The Church discerns and recognizes saintliness in the lives of men and women.
I join the millions who rejoice that the Church has recognized saintliness in the life of Pope John Paul II.