Canonisations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II

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Today is a day of many commemorations. It is the Octave Day of Easter and we have read the well-known Gospel of the doubt of Thomas – “unless I put my hand into the holes that the nails have made I refuse to believe” - and then his great proclamation of faith: “My Lord and my God”. It is the Divine Mercy Sunday and this afternoon we had the devotions for this feast, a feast which is particularly linked to Pope John Paul II. Finally in this evening Mass we unite with Pope Francis and the millions in Rome and across the world who are celebrating the canonisation of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. The canonisation is of two popes of recent memory who have been greatly loved in their lifetimes and revered after their deaths.


Angelo Roncalli or "Good Pope John" was expected to be an interim pope, coming to the papacy at the age of 76. He surprised the curia and the world by announcing an ecumenical council. The Second Vatican Council was a watershed for the Church. It instigated a period of significant transformation for the Church. It unleashed a new hope, vigour and change for the Church. Pope John would not see out the Council, dying in June 1963 after the second of its three sessions.

He is remembered as both a warm and kindly pope who had great affection for people and a man with a bold intention to see the Church engage more effectively with the modern world. Contrary to some popular misconceptions Pope John did not set out to adapt the Church to the modern world but rather sought to renew the Catholic faith by drawing more deeply from tradition and Sacred Scripture so that the Church could better engage the modern world. He sought to unlock the true dynamism of the Catholic faith by returning the true source of its faith – Jesus Christ.

While Blessed Pope John was not a prolific writer, his autobiography “Journal of a Soul” provides an excellent spiritual insight into the life of this saintly pope. 


Blessed John Paul II had a long papacy, in fact, the second longest in the history of the Church, 26 years, 5 months and 18 days. Coming to the role at the relatively young age of 58, he was the first non-Italian pope in 456 years. His Polish heritage along with his experience of the tyranny under both Nazism and Communism brought a new dimension to the papacy. Through these experiences he developed an acute awareness of the importance of respect for the dignity of each human person. This experience of tyranny was also invaluable in the Church’s efforts to confront communism. There is no doubt that John Paul II played a critical role in the collapse of communism, symbolised dramatically by the destruction of the Berlin Wall.

He also brought with him a consciousness of the Christian traditions of the East and worked to encourage greater unity between East and West. He believed that the Church needed to breathe with both its lungs - east and west. From his childhood he also carried with him his experience of the Jewish people. He was acutely aware of the terrible suffering of the Jewish people during the Second World War, and as a result throughout his life strove to build positive and respectful relationships between the Church and the Jewish people.

It is not possible to adequately summarise the immense achievements and contribution of Pope John Paul II to the Catholic Church, but three things stand out in particular. First, his relentless travel to all parts of the world to strengthen the faith of Catholics and to bring the Church's presence into the political and social environments. The second was his decision to hold regular meetings with youth. The World Youth Days have become a remarkable phenomenon and have been effective means of inspiring young people to live their lives as dedicated Catholics. These World Youth Days have resulted in many thousands of conversions and assisted a new generation of priests and religious discern their vocations.

Thirdly we need to note his extraordinary output of teaching. His most important documents include 14 Encyclicals, 15 Apostolic Exhortations, 11 Apostolic Constitutions, and 45 Apostolic letters. He also promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church and reformed the Eastern and Western Codes of Canon Law. While pope John Paul II also wrote and published five books, which included “Crossing the Threshold of Hope”.


Both popes have made an immense contribution to the Church as we know it today, but even more importantly both were clearly men of God. We join with the Italian community and the Polish community is their joy as their countrymen are raised among the saints.

Today we ask their intercession for the Church here in Tasmania, that we will be faithful to the traditions of the faith that these two popes promoted so clearly and fearlessly. We pray that the Catholic Church here in Tasmania will become a stronger witness to the truth of the Gospel and be an instrument of bringing many to Christ, and that that they like Thomas will be able to declare that the risen Christ is Lord and God.


Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, 27 April 2014