A few hours ago John Paul II was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in St Peters Square, Vatican City. This ceremony was streamed live and millions of people who could not attend the ceremony – including yours sincerely – were glued to their TV screens.
The reaction around the world from the breaking of the news of the beatification to the ceremony itself is astounding. A survey shows that:
78% of Americans — along with 95% of Catholics and 98% of practicing Catholics — admire Pope John Paul II at least somewhat, with strong majorities of each demographic admiring him a great deal or a good amount (55%, 82% and 89%, respectively)… Nearly three out of four Americans (74%) believe that John Paul II is a good candidate for the honor of beatification. Nine in 10 Catholics (90%) and an even greater number of practicing Catholics (94%) agree…More than four in 10 Americans report that John Paul II made at least some difference in their life spiritually. Among Catholics nearly three-quarters felt he had some spiritual impact on their lives (73%), as did nearly 9 in 10 practicing Catholics (87%).
Jim Bittermann of CNN recounts his trips as a reporter in the Vatican with JP II thus:
The Italians did not know what to expect of the new pope. There were rumors that odors of cooked cabbages and sausage were now wafting up from the Vatican kitchens. Among some churchmen, there were grumblings about the new “Polish mafia,” the Poles who’d moved in take over Vatican offices that Italians had dominated for more than four centuries. John Paul was the youngest pope in more than a century and we surmised – and his fellow cardinals later confirmed – that his youth and upbringing behind the Iron Curtain may have engendered his lust for travel. He hit the road constantly, taking the papal press corps along for the rides. In the early days, he would leave the front of the plane and come back to find us, as we flew what we liked to call pilgrim class (as the Pope sat in “Pope class” and bishops in “bishop class.”)
John Allen gives an estimate of the crowd in St Peter’s Square this morning:
The current estimate is that roughly one million pilgrims should be on hand by Sunday, in addition to the turnout from the Romans themselves. Some 100,000 Poles are expected — including Pawel Kurylo, a 39-year-old bricklayer who walked over 1,400 miles from Pruska Wielka, Poland, to Rome. He set out on March 25, he said, to prove that “every Pole could be here, if only they want to badly enough.
Allen’s estimate was not off the mark as this report confirmed:
About a million pilgrims turned out in Rome, many waving Polish flags and holding images of John Paul II, who was Archbishop of Krakow in Poland before being elected Pope. The presidents of Italy and Poland were among 16 heads of state at the Mass, alongside seven prime ministers, the Vatican said. There were also big crowds in Krakow for the event, where at least 50,000 people braved pouring rain at the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Lagiewniki. For those who couldn’t make it to Rome or Krakow, the Vatican created a special Twitter feed for the event, @Pope2YouVatican. It also launched a Facebook page for it, and streamed it live to iPhones and iPads through Pope2You.net.
Who is JP II?
In an earlier post, I had confessed the difficulty of defining this Polish Pope:
To sketch a portrait of John Paul (JP) II is arduous, for it is difficult to capture the essence of this man, poet, intellectual, priest, bishop and Pope. His life was a riddle of love spiced with the cross. And his death was similarly an exponential continuation of his discipleship and witness to the truth.
Nonetheless, that does not mean it’s impossible. As Greg Burke asserts, JPII was the progenitor of the new evangelisation:
Above all, Pope John Paul II was an energetic and tireless evangelizer. This became clear with some of the first words the former archbishop of Krakow spoke upon his election as pope in 1978. “Brothers and sisters, be not afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power,” John Paul II said during the homily at his inauguration Mass. “Be not afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Be not afraid.”
Bishop Javier Echevarria, Prelate of Opus Dei, peers more into the charisma of JP II, that made him a natural crowd puller:
What was the secret of the evangelizing efficacy of this extraordinary Pontiff? It is evident that Karol Wojtyla was an untiring defender of human dignity, a solicitous shepherd, a credible communicator of the truth and a father, as much for believers as for unbelievers; but the Pope who has led us from the second into the third millennium has been, above all, a man in love with Jesus Christ and identified with Him. “To know who John Paul II is one has to see him pray, especially in the intimacy of his private chapel”, wrote one of the biographers of this holy Pontiff. And effectively, it is just like that.
For a Pope with that reigned for more than 26 years with the second-longest pontificate in recorded history, my prediction that about his beatification seems to have superseded reality. JP II had shown and continues to impress upon my generation that shrinks from ‘God Talk’:
…that holiness is possible, hip and cool. Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!