President of Canadian Bishops Remembers Holiness of Popes John XXIII, John Paul II

«I give thanks to Almighty God for the gift of these two great luminaries»

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Here is a statement from the new president of the Canadian episcopal conference, Bishop Paul-André Durocher of Gatineau, on the upcoming canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.

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Together with all the Bishops of Canada, I welcome the announcement of the canonizations of Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II on April 27, 2014. Their canonization will be a moment of great thanksgiving for the universal Church as we celebrate their witness to holiness lived in the service and proclamation of the Gospel, as well as in their life of prayer and charity.

I clearly remember June 3, 1963, when the church bell rang throughout our village for almost an hour. I was nine years old. The principal of our little school came into our class, and announced “Children, kneel down. The Pope has died.” Even though young, I understood a great man had departed, “the good Pope John,” as people called him.

Later, I came to understand that he had reached out to all men and women of good will, to love, to understand, and to teach how to work for peace. Throughout his pontificate, John XXIII always showed deep concern for the suffering and needs of the world. His famous visit to the inmates of Regina Coeli Prison in December 1958 is an excellent example of his style of pastoral care. Looking into the eyes of the prisoners, he said, “I have put my eyes in your eyes; I have placed my heart next to yours.”

Last week, the Bishops of Canada, gathered in Plenary Assembly, recalled his Encyclical Pacem in Terris, “Peace on Earth”. We remembered how just weeks before his death, Pope John had implored world leaders to work toward a genuine peace, rather than a false peace secured by the force of nuclear arms. He had lived through the horrors of World War I, and later served as the Apostolic Delegate to Turkey and Greece. Toward the end of World War II, he became Apostolic Nuncio to France. During this time, he worked relentlessly to save the lives of refugees and immigrants through diplomatic efforts. He knew from personal experience what working for peace means.

His reaching out to others and his call for dialogue are especially evident in his calling of the Second Vatican Council. Although he did not see the Council end, its final documents carried his mark in their openness to the world and their commitment to ecumenism. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 3, 2000. The Church in Canada and the universal Church are forever thankful to John XXIII for his witness and fidelity to Christ.

What can one say about Pope John Paul II? Along with many of my brother Bishops, I was struck by his youth and strength of character when he came onto the balcony above Saint Peter’s Square the day he was elected Pope, October 16, 1978. How can one forget his resounding words at the Mass inaugurating his pontificate: “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ.” He spent the next 27 years of his life proclaiming this very message through voluminous works of writing and far-reaching travels throughout the world.

He was born Karol Józef Wojtyła on May 18, 1920, in Wadowice, Poland. During his youth, John Paul II knew the horrors of Nazism and Communism. As Pope, he was a tireless advocate for the dignity of the human person, speaking out against all forms of injustice and proposing a vision of the human person rooted in the person of Christ, Redeemer of humanity. This was the theme of the first of his 14 encyclicals.

In Canada, we rejoiced and were blessed to receive Pope John Paul II on three occasions. His first visit was in 1984 – he was the first Pope in history to set foot on Canadian soil. He crossed Canada from coast to coast, covering a total of 15,000 kilometers in a span of 12 days. I was in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium when he gathered thousands of young people in prayer. I was also there on the LeBreton Flats in Ottawa for his final Mass dedicated to peace. With thousands of other Canadians, including Catholics and non-Catholics, I recall his visit among us as a breath of fresh air and renewal.

In 1987, he returned to Canada to fulfill a promise to meet with the Indigenous Peoples from the Northwest Territories at Fort Simpson. He had hoped to visit this community in 1984 but was unable at the time because of bad weather.

His third and final visit was to Toronto in 2002, for the gathering of hundreds of thousands of young people for the 17th World Youth Day. The Pope spent six days in and around Toronto, meeting with young people from the four corners of the globe. I remember the multitude of 800,000 people who crowded Downsview Park for the closing Mass on July 28, 2002. The rain clouds scattered, and the sun shone when he proclaimed Christ as the source and fulfillment of the deepest desires young people have for meaning and love. A year before he died, I had the chance to shake his hand. Despite his age and illness, his eyes lit up when I said I was from Canada and that his World Youth Day visit continued to bear good fruit among us.

Pope John Paul II died at the age of 85, on April 2, 2005. The impact of his life and his teachings are immense, a grand banquet still being assimilated by the Church and the world. He was beatified on May 1, 2011, by Pope Benedict XVI.

In communion with my brother Bishops and all the faithful in Canada, I give thanks to Almighty God for the gift of these two great luminaries. Both Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II, each in his own unique way, provided wisdom in times of darkness. Through their faithfulness to Christ, they encouraged joy and hope. Let us too follow their example and be witnesses of the Gospel to our world

+ Paul-André Durocher
Archbishop of Gatineau
President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops

October 2, 2013

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