Two saints at once! Pope Francis’s ‘brilliant move to unify the church’

The Rev. Thomas J. Reese, S.J., is the new Senior Analyst for the National Catholic Reporter. This long-time journalist’s three books—Inside the Vatican, A Flock of Shepherds and Archbishop—are now standard reference works for understanding the worldwide Catholic Church. Here is Tom’s analysis of the news from Rome …

In a brilliant move to unify the church, Pope Francis approved the canonization of Pope John XXIII and John Paul II. Pope Francis realized that most Catholics like both popes, but some liberal Catholics love John XXIII and think John Paul was too authoritarian. On the other hand, some conservative Catholics love John Paul and think that John XXIII pushed the church into chaos.

With the joint announcement, Pope Francis is saying we do not have to choose between popes; we can honor and revere both as holy men who served the church well in their times.

The pope would agree with St. Paul (1 Corinthians, Chapter 3) who criticized those who said “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos.”

“What is Apollos, after all, and what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers…for we are God’s co-workers.”

What matters is that we all belong to Christ.

What was most remarkable about the announcement was the decision by Pope Francis to waive the requirement of a second miracle for the canonization of John XXIII. If Francis had not done this, John Paul’s canonization would have moved ahead of his predecessor’s. Pope Francis found this unacceptable.

According to Divinus Perfectionis Magister (The Divine Teacher and Model of Perfection), the church rules for canonizations adopted in 1983, one miracle is required for beatification and a second is required for canonization, except for martyrs who only need one miracle.

Since this is a legal requirement and not something based in doctrine, the pope has the right to wave it. In fact, prior to the revision of the rules for canonization in 1983, a number of theologians and experts like Father Peter Gumpel, S.J., argued for eliminating the requirement for any miracles.

Once again, Pope Francis has shown that he is willing to ignore tradition and change the rules to do what he thinks is best for the church.


This column was originally published at the National Catholic Reporter online and is republished here with permission.

Care to read more about Pope John XXIII?

You’ll enjoy our in-depth interview with Greg Tobin, biographer of Pope John XXIII.

St Kateri Tekakwitha opens Native American spiritual vistas

The canonization of the first Native American saint by Pope Benedict XVI means that more than 1 billion Christians around the world now are encouraged to learn more about Native American spiritual vistas. These insights are poignant because this deep religious wisdom was opened to the world even as tribes were decimated by the collision of American and European cultures. Today, while millions of native men and women across the North American continent maintain only their ancient spiritual traditions, millions more blend both their ancient cultures and Christian spiritual traditions.

What St Kateri Tekakwitha’s Canonization Means

In declaring the sainthood of the 17th-century convert Kateri Tekakwitha, Benedict is telling all Catholics around the world that she is, indeed, a heroic saint worthy of spiritual reflection and inclusion in prayers of the saints in any congregation. Her influence also extends far beyond the Catholic church into other Christian communities and national cultures. Some criticism remains of ongoing Christian evangelism among Native populations, but St. Kateri’s canonization is widely celebrated as an honor for all Canadians and all Native Christians.
In his declaration, Benedict said: “Leading a simple life, Kateri remained faithful to her love for Jesus, to prayer, and to daily Mass. Her greatest wish was to know and to do what pleased God. Saint Kateri, Protrectress of Canada and first Native American saint, we entrust to you the renewal of faith in the First Nations and in all of North America! May God bless the First Nations!”

Bringing Native American spiritual wisdom into your congregation

One way to bring this discussion to your congregation is through the spiritual memoir of Odawa teacher Warren Petoskey, called Dancing My Dream. Visit the book page for Warren’s memoir to learn more about how Warren weaves his own deep American Indian traditions through his conversion to Christianity. You will come away from Warren’s story inspired and humbled by the tragedies his family suffered and the soaring spiritual insights he shares with all of us today.

Care to learn more about St. Kateri? You’ll enjoy Stephanie Fenton’s column about her, marking her saint’s feast day earlier this year.