hy was Pope John Paul II declared Blessed, so soon after his death? In the weeks before Sunday’s magnificent ceremony – attended by more than a million people – commentators offered various theories. Many suggested it was simply a recognition of his evident personal holiness, which was never more clear than in the physical torment of his final years. Some argued that it was a reward for his inspiring 26-year leadership of the Catholic Church and his role in bringing down Communism. Those with more conspiratorial tastes claimed it was an attempt by the late pope’s colleagues to “beatify” their own legacy.
Benedict XVI answered the question definitively in his homily at the beatification Mass. “John Paul II is Blessed because of his faith, a strong, generous and apostolic faith,” he said. In other words, he was not beatified because of his personal piety in the narrow sense, as a reward for management performance or to reinforce the Church’s ruling circle. No: he was beatified because he showed an immense faith in God and inspired others to do the same – including many converts from other faiths. Possibly no pope is history has inspired so many people to swim the Tiber. As Pope Benedict said: “This exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel. In a word, he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty. To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is Redemptor hominis, the Redeemer of man.” Yet the question remains: why has John Paul II been raised to the altars so quickly? This was the fastest beatification of modern times (beating Mother Teresa by 15 days). Was this simply a response to the cries of “santo subito” at his funeral? Or was it a result of a top-down pressures? On the eve of the beatification Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the former vicar of Rome, revealed that his fellow cardinals had presented him with a canonisation petition during the conclave to elect John Paul II’s successor.
In his homily on Sunday, Benedict XVI took personal responsibility for the speed of the Cause. Speaking of the pope’s funeral, he said: “Even then we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity, and in any number of ways God’s People showed their veneration for him. For this reason, with all due respect for the Church’s canonical norms, I wanted his Cause of beatification to move forward with reasonable haste.”
The Holy Father also responded, in his characteristically indirect way, to the frequently heard claim that John Paul II sought to “reinterpret” the Second Vatican Council, turning the Church back to pre-conciliar times. Pope Benedict argued that his predecessor was, in fact, an authentic interpreter of Vatican II. John Paul II tirelessly encouraged the Church to receive the “great gift of the Second Vatican Council” and highlighted, in particular, the universal call to holiness and the celebration of Mary as a model of holiness for all Christians found in Lumen Gentium.
In his concluding remarks, Pope Benedict said: “Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you have believed!” He was reminding us that we do not call John Paul II Blessed because of his personal gifts, tremendous though these were, but because he trusted in God and allowed Him to touch others through him. Few of us will ever be called to do this in such a demanding position; but, regardless of our particular calling, we can all follow Blessed John Paul II’s example of faith.
We do not call John Paul II Blessed because of his immense ersonal gifts but because he trusted in God wholeheartedly