Why Canonized Popes John XXIII and John Paul II are 'Giants of 20th Century'

( [email protected] ) Apr 29, 2014 06:26 PM EDT
Popes John XXII and John Paul II were canonized this past Sunday by Pope Francis, who called them "giants of the 20th century." The lives and witness of the two men transcended the walls of the church, deeply impacting the world around them.

In an unprecedented ceremony held this past Sunday, Pope Francis declared Popes John XXIII and John Paul II saints before nearly 800,000 people at St. Peter's Square, calling them "giants of the 20th century." The event displayed the unity of the Catholic Church by honoring popes who are beloved by millions around the world.

Pope Francis said Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II remained strong leaders throughout the 20th century because they were "two brave men, filled with the frankness of the Holy Spirit, who knew the risen Christ bore witness to God's goodness and mercy."

President Obama reflected on the popes' incredible influence in a statement released on the White House website.

"The work and witness of both Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II shaped not only the Catholic Church but the world," he wrote, "...We celebrate these Saints and the leadership of His Holiness Pope Francis, and we look forward to continuing to work with Pope Francis and Catholics around the world to advance peace and justice for all people."

The two canonized popes share an unlikely path to sainthood, rising from humble beginnings to lead the Roman Catholic Church.

Vatican analyst Robert Mickens says the popes' poor backgrounds gave them a "pastoral sense" which was crucial to their success in the church.

"They did not come from noble families either one of them, [but from] working class families and I think they also were two people who had a real sense of humanity."

Both men were well-respected leaders as well.

John XXIII, who was 76 when he became pope, established the Second Vatican Council which modernized Roman Catholicism. He actively promoted unity with other faith communities, famously stating, "The Church has always opposed... errors. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity."

Where Pope John XXIII strengthened the church from within, Pope John Paul II worked to bring the church to the world

John Paul II, a former actor was an influential speaker, touching millions. He made great strides to promote worldwide peace, speaking out against apartheid in South Africa and genocide in Rwanda. The pope was a key figure in establishing the Solidarity movement in Poland, a movement eventually assisted in ending communism in Eastern Europe.

Professor Karol Wojytla, a close friend of the pope, stated "John Paul II is not a man with faith. His identity is faith."

Both popes were beloved by Catholics around the globe. Before they died, masses were held for them all over the world and thousands gathered in St. Peter's Square to pray.

Upon hearing of John XXIII's death, the crowds wept for "The Good Pope." Several decades later, when John Paul II died, thousands of mourners cried, "Make him a saint now!"

John Podesta, counselor to President Obama, describes the magnitude of the two men's influence on the White House blog.

"In different ways, John XXIII and John Paul II defined what it meant to be Catholic in the 20th century," he wrote. "Their influence and their example as men of humility, compassion, service, and faith provide profound lessons to people around the world."

The pair's double canonization will mark the first time two Popes have been made saints on the same day.