POPE PAUL has created a momentous precedent in the history of the Church by personally inaugurating and publicly announcing the clearing of the way for the beatification — and subsequent canonisation — of those two "well-beloved figures", the late Pope John and his predecessor, the late Pope Pius XII.
Popes must always approve the beginning, by the Sacred Congregation of Rites, which handles these matters of processes towards beatification and canonisation. But Popes do not normally publicly announce these initiations, nor do they intervene until the Congregation has done its preliminary work.
By intervening in the cases of Popes John and Pius, Pope Paul has eliminated perhaps years of preliminary investigation into the sanctity of the two candidates for eventual canonisation. At the same time, he has made it absolutely clear that he neither expects nor advocates "short cuts" as such.
Addressing the Vatic an Council, he said "In order that we may all be strengthened in this spiritual renovation (of the Church through the Council), we propose to the Church to recall with devotion the words and examples of our last two predecessors, Pius XII and John XXIII, to whom the Church herself and the world owe so much.
"We are arranging to this end that there be canonically begun the processes of beatification of these holy and eminent Supreme Pontiffs who are so dear to us. This will be an answer to the desire that has been expressed by innumerable voices in favour of these two Popes. In this way history will be assured the patrimony of their spiritual legacy.
"Thus it will be ensured that for no motive other than the cult of true holiness—which is the glory of God and the edification of his Church—will the authentic image of these wellbeloved figures be preserved for our veneration and for that of succeeding generations.
"The procedure, obviously, cannot be rapid, but it will be carried out with constancy and care. May God grant that it will lead us where we hope to arrive."
Pope Paul's specific emphasis on "true holiness" as the one and only motive inspiring the "causes" of Popes John and Pius is interesting in the light of Communist—and in particular Italian Communist— attempts to use Pope John's universal popularity to present him as a kind of workers' "Red" saint of peace.
It is also interesting, in Pope Pius XII's case, in that some people might be inclined to interpret Pope Paula gesture as an attempt to "whitewash" Pius following the criticism of him sparked off by German playwright Rolf Hochhuth's play, "The Deputy", in which he accuses Pius of not having come out boldly against Hitler's persecution of the Jews.
Beatification, which confers the title "Blessed" upon a candidate, is the first step towards canonisation. It usually involves a diocesan tribunal, in the diocese from which the candidates originally came. in inviting and collecting evidence that the candidate was virtuous "to a heroic degree". At least two miracles must be authenticated to the satisfaction of the Congregation of Rites before a person is beatified.
Once this is done, canonisation directly involves the Holy See. The process starts all over again. The Congregation of Rites examines all evidence previously produced and also requires at least two more miracles to be authenticated.
.Medical experts study the cures that have been put forward as miraculous on the candidate's behalf. In the invariably lengthy proceedings before the Congregation of Rites, the Promoter of the Faith, more popularly (or unpopularly known as "the Devil's Advocate"), presents all the objections he can find to the claims made for the candidate.
Finally, the cause is either dropped, or recommended to the Pope for his final ratification, by which the candidate is "raised to the altars of the Church". Some canonisations have taken centuries, others have been comparatively short.
The only Pope in recent times to be made a saint was Pope Pius X, who died in 1914. He was canonised in 1954, 40 years after his death. He was the first Pope to be canonised in 242 years and the 78th of 263 recognised Popes to be made a saint. Other Popes. however, have been beatified.
Among modern saints is Mother Francis Xavier Cabrini, the first United States citizen to be canonised. She founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, died in Chicago in 1917 and was beatified on November 13, 1938. just 21 years after her death. She was canonised on July 7, 1946, almost eight years after beatification — the first saint canonised by Pius XII.
The popular Italian saint, Marie Goretti, was horn on October 16, 1890. and stabbed to death, defending her virtue, in July 1902, when she was 11. The process for her beatification was not initiated until 1938. She was declared "Blessed" seven years later, on March 25, 1945, and canonised during Holy Year 1950. also by Pope Pius XII.
One of the greatest saints of earlier times, St. Francis Xavier, who joined St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, was born in 1506 and died on December 3, 1552. He was canonised 110 years after his death, at the same time as Ignatius.
When Pope Pius XII died on October 9, 1958, there was a popular demand to have him declared a saint. On the other hand, by the time good Pope John died on June 3, 1963— after only four years as pontiff —he was already regarded as a "saint" by millions of people throughout the world upon whom his simplicity, goodness and zealous advocacy of the brotherhood of all men had made a colossal impact in so short a time.
Since Pope John's death, thousands of people have visited his simple tomb in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica— near that of Pope Pius XII, also greatly venerated — and millions more have gone in pilgrimage to his native village of Sotto it Monte, in Bergamo, North Italy.
There his aged brothers. Zaverio, Alfredo and Giuseppe Roncalli, still live their peasant lives. "The Church knows what it is doing and it does things always for the good of all", was Zaverio's typically simple comment when told of Pope Paul's gesture towards their illustrious brother, born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli.
There, too, Mayor Paolo Carissimi, said quietly: "Pope John is already a saint to those of us in this area. Those who live here have the most eloquent testimony of that".
Italian newspapers see Pope Paul's decision to start simultaneous beatification proceedings for Pope John and Pius as a supreme act of Church statesmanship.
"Pope Paul's intention in coupling the two beatification cases is, obviously, to emphasise the continuity of the Church from one Pontiff to another and also to show all the emptiness of the polemics which at times contrast John XXIII with his predecessor Pius XII," says Bologna's Catholic newspaper, rAvvenire d'Iralia.
Milan's Corriere della Sera says, "Pius XII and John XXIII undoubtedly were different, but the Church sees them in a wider perspective, recognising their equal spiritual force and parallel holiness."