My Reflections on the Beatification of John Paul II

The election of John Paul II will be remembered as perhaps one of the biggest bombshells of the 1970s – a pope who had rock-star magnetism, virtuous charisma and the vigour to engage a culturally divided post-Woodstock Catholic Church. The world did not agree with his firm stance on the wrongs of abortion and contraception, but the world never stopped loving John Paul II. This handsome Polish Pope with his angelic smile became a globe-trotting phenomenon, visiting a total of 129 countries. John Paul II went all over the world, but during his Beatification last Sunday in Rome, the world came to venerate him.
Arriving in Rome on Saturday for John Paul II’s Beatification, the first sights were of priests and groups of nuns gathered in every station and on every street passing huge rosary beads in their hands. During the Beatification, Rome became New Poland. Everywhere you turned, there were representatives from every Parish in Poland, young Polish families with tears in their eyes, crowds of Polish priests and sometimes pristinely dressed but smiling Polish boy scouts. No matter how intensely crammed the crowds became, the people from John Paul II’s homeland remained in the vicinity of St Peter’s Square, their eyes peeled in case they would miss a minute of the proceedings.
Not surprisingly, just one million and a half people from over 100 countries came together on St Peter’s Square and around Rome to prepare for and witness the Beatification of who they called ‘the greatest man that ever lived.’ Talking to the crowds, I heard this joyful remark tens of times, ‘this is the happiest day of my life’. Some were keen to say that they would have stopped practising as Catholics and ‘would have left the church’ but didn’t, because ‘John Paul II led the way.’ St Peter’s Square was awash with photos and photographs, mugs, hats and t-shirts of JP II. Weary-looking Christian Evangelicals were doing their best to give leaflets explaining their belief that the Bible is the only route to salvation. Members of the crowd hugged and kissed the Evangelicals and welcomed them to the Beatification of JP II.

The crowd was a fine mix of saints and sinners. Zimbabwe’s villainous president, Mugabe, had forced his way into Rome, and was as timid as an altar boy during the Beatification. Mugabe did after all spend spent some time in a seminary. Mugabe obtained special permission to attend; after all he is banned from travelling in the EU. Silvio Berluscoi, perhaps the most wanton prime minister in the chronicles of Italy, was in attendance. Lech Walesa was one of the most celebrated politicians in attendance; he was welcomed as the good Catholic politician who was earnestly devoted to JP II.

Pope Benedict looked quite exhausted, but joyfully bestowed the status of Blessed on JPII, an announcement to which the crowd whooped and gave a cheer that would have reached heaven. Portions of the crowd, showing their impatience with the lesser title of ‘Blessed’, and cried ‘santo subito’ or ‘sainthood now’. There was clearly no pleasing some in the crowd who would have preferred that Pope Benedict announce John Paul II a saint – immediately. A vial of his blood, sheathed in a silver reliquary was presented to Benedict by two nuns. One of the nuns was Sr. Marie Simon Pierre, the French nun who was miraculously cured from Parkinson’s after she prayed to JP II. This was the miracle that was used to prove John Paul II’s sanctity.
Before the Catholic Church used to spend hundreds of years deciding if they would beatify someone; but it has taken six years to beatify John Paul II. Pope Benedict has beatified John Paul II when his memory is still alive in the hearts of the millions of faithful who loved him. Pope Benedict was keen to point out that John Paul deserves to be ‘Blessed John Paul II’, because of his immense personal holiness. Benedict said in his sermon; ‘Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed!’

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