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The faith of Peter

In the last sixty years, there have been three ceremonies for the beatification of a Roman Pontiff. In 1951, Pius X was elevated to the honor of the altars (and canonized only three years later), in 1956 Innocent XI, and in 2000, Pius IX and John XXIII together. A historical novelty, due to an intensification of hagiography, never before seen in the Church of Rome. Indeed, one must look to late antiquity and the medieval period for similar precedence, albeit very different, and it is no coincidence that one finds there the reform Popes, Leo IX and Gregory VII.

Indeed, it is all the way back in the second half of the eleventh century that one finds the recognition of sanctity by a Pontiff for his immediate predecessor , such as has occurred with the solemn beatification – a unique event on the world scene – of John Paul II. Only six years after his death, that death that is still in the hearts of millions and millions of people, believers and non-believers, as happened with the agony of John XXIII.

The exceptionality of the papal decision – “with due respect,” of the norms but at the same time, “with reasonable haste,” as Benedict XVI explained – and the very recent history of the long pontificate of Karol Wojtyla are not enough to explain the uniqueness of this beatification and the interest it has created throughout the world. Certainly, all of that helps to explain the influx of a million and a half people in Rome, and in part, the generally widespread consensus which greeted the beatification whether through a mature and convinced reasoning, or in an only superficial and apparent forgetfulness of the harsh criticism to which John Paul II was exposed during the years he was Pope; dramatic and exciting years now consigned to history.

Years and works whose incisiveness and relevance are now beginning to be evaluated and recognized historically, as Benedict XVI himself noted. The Pope in fact said that John Paul II inverted, “with the force of a giant – a force which was given to him by God – a tendency which could have seemed irreversible.” The tendency of closure towards Christ, the only Lord and Savior of the world. Giving Christianity a renewed orientation, “He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope…” That it turns its face towards the future with Christ, the only one capable of responding to the questions held in the human heart and the final point of history.

But aside from the greatness of a Pope – and the even greater humility of his successor who remembered, visibly moved, John Paul II – the reason for the uniqueness of his beatification was above all the dimension of faith: the faith of Peter, as described by Benedict XVI. Amongst the waving flags and repeated applause, between unexpected and diffuse tears of joy, in an enthusiasm that after the beatification left a impressive silence. In the prayer to God before the newly Blessed. Blessed because, like Mary and like Peter, he believed in and entrusted himself to the Lord.




St. Peter’s Square

Nov. 18, 2019