Cardinal Rigali reflects on popes as canonizations near

Historic ceremony highlights legacies of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II; pilgrimage planned

Cardinal Justin Rigali

Cardinal Justin Rigali

As sainthood nears for two of the most beloved popes in recent memory, a contemporary of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II remembers them as being particularly effective in spreading the Gospel around the world.

Catholics from every country will be witness to a rare event when the double canonization occurs April 27 at the Vatican, according to Cardinal Justin Rigali, who was a young priest in Rome when the Second Vatican Council was convened by John XXIII on Oct. 11, 1962.

Cardinal Rigali served in two of the four sessions of Vatican II, which officially concluded in December 1965, assisting the bishops attending the convocation.

While Blessed John XXIII opened Vatican II, it was closed by Pope Paul VI, who succeeded John XXIII after his death in 1963.

Among the future popes attending Vatican II as bishops were Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II. Pope Benedict XVI was a young theologian at the council.

Cardinal Rigali later served as a close assistant to Pope John Paul II, accompanying him in an official capacity on many of the apostolic visits John Paul II made to other countries during his papacy. The pope ordained Cardinal Rigali a bishop and later appointed him archbishop of St. Louis and then archbishop of Philadelphia. He also appointed Cardinal Rigali to the College of Cardinals.

While Cardinal Rigali’s service to the Church is steeped in history, he believes the upcoming dual canonization may not be repeated for generations, if ever.

“It’s such an extraordinary event to have two recent popes beloved by people everywhere canonized together,” he said. “This single ceremony in Rome will see the coming together of people from all over the world. It will be a huge, huge gathering.”

In Rome, Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Richard F. Stika will take part in a Diocese of Knoxville pilgrimage to the canonizations April 21-29. The nine-day tour will be centered in Rome and will include a visit to Assisi.

Cardinal Rigali and Bishop Stika will celebrate Mass with parishioners from the diocese. Registration for the pilgrimage, which is being organized by Select International Tours, can be made through Feb. 15 at www.selectinternational

The last pope to be canonized was Pius X. He died in 1914 and was canonized in 1954 by Pope Pius XII.

Cardinal Rigali said Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II were known as “pastoral popes.” While they reached priesthood from differing backgrounds and ascended to the papacy by different paths, Cardinal Rigali said they shared a common enthusiasm for the works of Vatican II and the importance of the Church spreading the Gospel around the world.

“John Paul II continued the work of John XXIII and Paul VI. He personally preached the Gospel throughout world,” Cardinal Rigali said.

“John XXIII wanted all the dynamism of the Gospel to be brought to the whole world. While faithfully proclaiming the Church’s teaching, he gave a great impetus to ecumenical relations among different religions. And he made many magnificent gestures that are so common now, like going to the prisons,” he added.

Cardinal Rigali noted various similarities between John XXIII and John Paul II that will result in sainthood for two popes separated by only 15 years. John XXIII was succeeded by Paul VI, who was succeeded by John Paul I, who was followed by John Paul II.

And people in the world have followed both beatified popes, finding inspiration and hope in their outstanding service to the Church.

Numerous pilgrims will attend the upcoming canonizations out of reverence and to witness a profoundly historic ceremony.

“Huge crowds are expected, but what an extraordinary occasion it is that the canonizations of two popes are being held at the same time,” Cardinal Rigali said.