This past Sunday was a unique and amazing day of four popes, the two pope saints, John XXIII and John Paul II and the two living popes, Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict! The renewal and updating of the Church called for by the Second Vatican Council, initiated by St. John XXIII, and central to the work of the New Evangelization as articulated by St. John Paul II continued through the efforts of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, especially the Synod on the New Evangelization and finding even greater momentum through the witness of Pope Francis. Among them all, along with Paul VI, the Council, and Church leadership in general has called all of the baptized to engage in greater co-responsibility for the life of the Church and for the work of evangelization.
Various pundits, both in Church and secular media, are quick to give their sometimes very simplistic analysis of why the two popes were canonized together and the message that Pope Francis is trying to convey. If there is any "message", I believe that it is a continued or re-commitment to the on-going renewal of the Church in trustful cooperation with the Holy Spirit and in prayerful communion with the saints.
St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II were both visionary leaders who put forward programmatic plans for not simply renew of the Church as an institution, but renewal of all the baptized in faith and holiness who are called to go forth to the world and renew it as well. In 1959, St. John XXIII said, "Profession of the Christian faith is not intelligible without strong, lively apostolic fervor" (Princeps Pastorum, 32). The Second Vatican Council confirmed this understanding in Lumen Gentium through its teachings about the Universal Call to Holiness and the role of all the baptized in the mission of Christ. St. John Paul II was one of the drafters of the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) along with the then Rector General of the Society of the Catholic Apostolate, Fr. Wilhelm Möhler. St. John Paul taught in his apostolic exhortation Christifedles Laici, which followed the Synod on the Laity in 1987, that
The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that the mission of Christ - Priest, Prophet-Teacher, King - continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission (14).
Just after the close of the first session of the Council, St. John XXIII canonized the Patron of the Catholic Apostolate Center, St. Vincent Pallotti, calling him "an innovator of new ways whereby people could come to know the love of God" (Cf. L'Osservatore Romano, January 23, 2013). Pallotti understood well the call of all to be apostles or what Pope Francis calls in Evangelii Gaudium, "missionary disciples" (120). The Center continues Pallotti's mission in the way that St. John Paul II described it to members of the Union of Catholic Apostolate when he said:
Continue to multiply your efforts so that what Vincent Pallotti prophetically announced, and the Second Vatican Council authoritatively confirmed, may become a happy reality, and all Christians become authentic apostles of Christ in the Church and in the world!
(Homily at San Salvatore in Onda, June 22, 1986).
Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!
St. Vincent Pallotti, pray for us!
St. John XXIII, pray for us!
St. John Paul II, pray for us!
Fr. Frank Donio, S.A.C., is the Director of the Catholic Apostolate Center