THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Updated: August 12, 2013 11:35AM
The two 20th-century popes now on a path to official sainthood were very different, but each was a trailblazer who left a lasting mark on the Catholic Church.
On Friday, Pope Francis cleared John XXIII and John Paul II for canonization, a historic pairing.
A half-century ago, John XXIII summoned bishops from around the world for a council called Vatican II to debate doctrinal issues. John XXIII believed the pope should be more like a pastor than an authoritative Renaissance prince, and the council agreed, enacting reforms making the church more ecumenical and progressive and less hierarchal. Members of other religions lauded the council and its promise of opening up the Catholic Church to the world.
For his part, John Paul II of Poland inspired the downtrodden of the world by his very election. The first non-Italian pope in 455 years, John Paul II brought hope to Eastern Europe, which still languished behind the Iron Curtain. He also traveled the globe in his early years, spreading the church’s ministry and inspiring a new generation of young Catholics.
John Paul II, who was pope from 1978 to 2005, also had his critics. It was during his papacy that the church became mired in a sex-abuse scandal, and progressives within the church criticized his appointment of conservative bishops who sought to undo many Vatican II reforms.
There always will be debate over who deserves canonization, including one such as that of John XXIII, for whom the Vatican had to dispense with the usual requirement for a second confirmed miracle.
But jointly honoring the two most significant popes of the last century may help strengthen the church.
On the anniversary of John Paul II’s death this year, Pope Francis went out of his way to pray over both these men’s tombs. Perhaps he is hoping the two canonizations will bring the church together in a spirit of unity.