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An exemplary life

The Beatification of John Paul II, at which his Successor will preside on the liturgical anniversary of his death, is an historic event which has no precedent. One has to go back to the heart of the Middle Ages to find similar examples but in contexts that are in no way comparable to Benedict XVI’s decision: in the last 10 centuries no Pope has raised his immediate Predecessor to the honours of the altar.

Pietro del Morrone (who became Celestine v) was canonized in 1313 — less than 20 years after his death — by his third Successor. More than two centuries earlier the holiness of Leo IX and of Gregory VII, who died in 1054 and in 1085, had been immediately recognized. It is not by chance that at the beginning of that renowned reforming papacy celebrated a few decades later in the Lateran oratory of St Nicholas, through the portrayal of several contemporary Popes, each one defined as sanctus .

The later innovative modifications of modernity were introduced into the hagiographical sobriety of the Roman Church — which venerates as holy almost only the Popes of the most ancient epoch — with the decisions taken in the last 30 years of the 19th century and, namely, with those of Pius XII and of John Paul II himself. The devotion to several medieval Pontiffs was then recognized and Pius X, the most recent Pope Saint, Innocent XI, Pius IX and John XXIII were raised to the honours of the altar.

At the heart of every Cause of Beatification and Canonization it is exclusively the exemplarity of life of those who, using a scriptural expression, are described as at the service of God. To assure history — as Paul VI said, in the announcement of the introduction of the causes of his two immediate Predecessors — of “the patrimony of their spiritual heritage”, over and above “any other motive, that is not the worship of true holiness, in other words the glory of God and the edification of his Church”.

And Karol Wojtyła, an authentic servant of God, was a passionate witness of Christ from his youth to his last breath. Very many people, even non-Catholics and non-Christians, understood this during his exemplary life; it documents his spiritual testament, written on various occasions in the years of his Pontificate. It was for this reason that already on 28 April 2005, less than a month after his death, his Successor dispensed with the prescribed forms for the introduction of the cause. For this reason he has decided to preside at his Beatification in order to present John Paul II to the world as a model of personal holiness.

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