Pope was devoted to people, prayer

| February 16, 2011
Archbishop Nienstedt

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt

I hope that the recent announcement by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, that he would beatify his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, brought a sense of joy to the hearts of Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Personally, it was a source of delight for me. I had the privilege of working for Pope John Paul II in his Secretariat of State for five years. I met him on several occasions, and every time I came away impressed with his charismatic personality. He loved people, and that was evidenced by the way he warmed to every person and every crowd.

At the same time, you could see that he was a man of intense devotion. Praying in his chapel before morning Mass, one often heard physical groans coming from him as he was deep in prayer.

Loved by youth

I have told people that he was one of the holiest people I have been privileged to know. The thousands upon thousands of young people who came to his funeral in Rome must have thought so, too. They chanted, “Santo subito” before and after the sacred services: They wanted him to be declared a saint, and they wanted it done soon.

Shortly after his election, Pope Benedict suspended the normal regulation of a five-year wait before beginning the standard process of inquiry into the candidate’s heroic virtue (Pope John Paul II had done the same for Mother Teresa of Calcutta).

But His Holiness also stressed that the other requirements be followed carefully: There would be no short-cuts in this process, which is highly scientific and demanding of evidence.

I am sure that the claim made by the French nun that her Parkinson’s disease had been cured through his intercession was reviewed rigorously. But when you think about it, why wouldn’t the late Holy Father want to intercede with a disease that had weighed so heavily on him in the last years of his life. Who could understand better than he what freedom from this debilitating illness would mean?

As Catholics, we believe that a canonized saint is in heaven with the Lord, that the saint is able to intercede for the needs of the earthly church and respond to those needs, and that our heavenly brother or sister has merited public honor and devotional recognition by the church.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “by canonizing some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the Spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors” (no. 828).

Pope John Paul II, himself, said, “The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments in church history.”

Until the fourth century, the cult of the saint was intimately tied to the cult of the martyrs who died during times of persecution. St. Augustine, in the “City of God,” chapter 12, dwells extensively on the value of a saint’s intercession in his discussion on the miracles attributed to them.

Consoling prayer

It is no coincidence that the date set for Pope John Paul’s beatification will be May 1, which this year is Divine Mercy Sunday, the feast on which the late Holy Father died.

This pope did much to foster the Divine Mercy chaplet introduced by St. Faustina of Poland. Many people, including my own mother before she died, have found great consolation and encouragement from this prayer.

One can only hope that as devotion grows for the soon-to-be Blessed John Paul II, devotion to the Divine Mercy will also increase throughout the church.

God bless you!

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Category: Only Jesus

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