Published October 1, 2013
In April 8, 2005, something happened in Rome that hadn’t happened for over 1,400 years: the congregation at a papal funeral Mass spontaneously proclaimed the deceased Pontiff a saint. The honoree was a son of Poland, Karol Wojtyla, who, at the conclusion of the official canonization process on April 27, 2014, will be known as Pope St. John Paul II. The formalities notwithstanding, there was something instinctively and authentically Catholic about those cries of “Santo subito! [A saint immediately!]” and “Magnus” (or the Italian “Magno”) that reverberated around St. Peter’s Square on April 8, 2005, at a volume that could be heard hundreds of yards away. The people of the Catholic Church had made their judgment: John Paul II was a great man, a Christian who had displayed heroic virtue. And while some are wondering if eight years is too short a time for canonization, the speed shouldn’t be cause for either alarm or surprise.
The only concession made to the popular demand for an accelerated process for Pope John Paul II was Pope Benedict XVI’s agreement that the five-year waiting period for the introduction of a “cause” would be waived. Over 120 witnesses gave formal testimony (full disclosure: I was one of them); an entire volume of the documentary record was given over to answering challenges to John Paul’s reputation for heroic virtue that arose after the cause was introduced. There were no shortcuts taken, and the medical cures that satisfied the requirement of one miracle for beatification (the cure of a French nun from Parkinson’s disease) and another for canonization (the cure of a Costa Rican woman from a cerebral aneurism) were certified as medically “inexplicable” by a panel of scientists.
And then there were those spontaneous testimonies, which continued long beyond April 8, 2005. In the Roman office where the cause was conducted, I once saw letters from all over the world, in various languages, some of them from non-Catholics and non-Christians, simply addressed “Pope John Paul II/Heaven.” The people’s witness to the heroic sanctity of the man who singularly embodied the human drama of the second half of the 20th century was steady, passionate and persuasive. The church’s leadership has now caught up with, and ratified, that witness.
Those who have complained about a short-circuited canonization process are, in the main, people who never wanted to see John Paul II canonized at all. Their judgment has now been rejected by the relevant Vatican offices as well as by the current Pope, Francis. The friends of John Paul II hope that this small minority of dissidents will now join in celebrating a noble life, heroically lived, that can be a model for all men and women of good will.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.