Our popes: New saints an inspiration to Filipinos
MANILA, Philippines – When Pope Francis declared John Paul II and John XXIII new saints during a solemn ceremony at the Vatican, many of the thousands of Filipinos watching from Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City were moved to tears.
On Sunday, April 27, for the first time in Vatican history, two revered leaders of modern-day Catholicism were enrolled into the roster of saints: the Polish pope John Paul II and the Italian leader John XXIII.
For many Filipinos, the canonization means they can now say a saint had once stepped on Philippine soil. (READ: Why Popes John XVIII, John Paul II are dear to Pinoys)
The significance was not lost on the thousands who trooped to the Araneta Coliseum for the Philippine celebration of the historic twin canonization, led by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle.
In his homily, Tagle even joked, “Don’t feel bad that you’re not at the Vatican right now watching the rites. Pope John Paul II visited this coliseum too. It’s also a relic.”
Beloved, an inspiration
The charismatic Polish pope made a mark on many Filipinos by visiting the country twice: he first visited the Philippines in 1981, when he beatified the Philippines’ first saint, Lorenzo Ruiz. (READ: The Pope who loved the Filipino youth, family and chocolate cake)
His second visit was during the World Youth Day celebrations in 1995.
Lucilina Castillo, a volunteer interpreter for persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the San Roque parish, was part of the 5 million-strong crowd who attended the 1995 event.
It came during a time when she felt her calling to serve PWDs in her parish. She said the experience was so powerful, she had to make sure she could witness the canonization too.
Despite the difficulty of organizing the trip amid conflicting schedules, Castillo said this was one event she could not afford to miss.
“God really finds ways for us to be here and I'm really blessed to feel the presence of our new saints. We’re not in Rome, but we still feel their presence and blessing,” she added.
She was not the only one who felt emotional when Pope Francis read the words that would officially include the two former popes in the roster of saints. Others in the coliseum clapped along and cheered when the words were pronounced.
Castillo, a cancer survivor, said that the historic moment was a source of strength and inspiration.
“I was moved to tears when Pope John Paul II visited in 1995, and now that he is already a saint, I was moved to tears again,” she said.
“His canonization gives me more strength. I know that whatever hardship I’ll go through, there’s still hope for healing,” she added.
Call to action
Jesuit Communications (JesCom) executive director Fr Emmanuel Alfonso SJ also said Filipinos feel a deep connection with the two canonized popes because of their impact on the Philippines.
John Paul II visited the country twice and was met with millions of devotees.
John XXIII, meanwhile, named the first Filipino cardinal – Rufino Santos – and ushered in a wave of reforms that impacted Asia’s largest predominantly Catholic country by convening the second Vatican council.
“We can call them our popes,” Alfonso said.
For Alfonso, the two new saints played significant roles in setting the foundations for growth and reform within the Catholic Church.
He said the canonization reminded Filipinos of the great contributions of these saints, and the challenge to continue the reforms they started.
“The second Vatican council called for a church that’s involved in the lives of the people, especially the world. It called for the church to be involved in justice and social development,” he said.
“The contributions of these saints need to be continued. For many of us, justice, peace, and solidarity with the poor are still concepts,” Alfonso said.
“The church has called for this a long time ago but we have to enflesh all these concepts so that our world will be better.”
Tagle also echoed the same sentiment in his homily, when he urged the crowd to embrace the gift of holiness granted by God.
“Holiness is a gift of God to all of us ordinary men and women. We are as ordinary as John XXIII and John Paul II. But all of us have been given the grace of holiness, and we are called to live by holiness,” Tagle said.
He then urged the crowd to reject unjust actions and treat their fellow men with fairness.
“If you are a recipient of God's mercy, show that mercy. Don't trample on the dignity of children, women, and the poor. Do not treat human beings as commodities you can traffic and exchange for a sum of money. Society gets worse because of the lack of mercy,” he added.
Call for unity
Some Vatican watchers said Francis’ decision to canonize the two popes – one considered "liberal" and the other "conservative" – is a way to appeal to the factions within the Church.
Alfonso said this could be in line with Francis’ message of unity under one church.
But he cautioned against labeling the two popes and putting them opposite clear-cut lines.
“The teaching of the Church is consistent. So to put people in boxes, as progressive or traditionalist, I don’t know if that helps,” he said.
“The message of Pope Francis is we have one church. Let us not fight amongst ourselves. The real enemy is out there – poverty, injustice, violence, terrorism. So we must unite together,” he added. – Rappler.com