John Paul II and John XXII were characterized by their prophetic vision for the future, their love for others, and their willingness to embrace the cross. This according to Monsignor Anthony Figueiredo, director of the Institute for continuing Theological Education and adjunct spiritual advisor at Rome’s Pontifical North American College.
Thousands of pilgrims from around the world have already begun to arrive in Rome to celebrate the canonizations of these two Popes, who will be declared saints by Pope Francis on 27 April, Divine Mercy Sunday.
Speaking with ZENIT ahead of Sunday’s canonizations, Msgr. Figueiredo offered his perspectives on these two Popes, and the significance of their canonization at this time:
ZENIT: Why is it significant to canonize John Paul II and John XXIII together?
Monsignor Figueiredo: It’s an enormous gift, and Pope Francis is giving us these two good and courageous priests, building really on his predecessor, Pope Benedict’s, wish that these men become saints. Every saint is an intercessor, and becomes a model for the Church. Many of us knew these two saints. They were saints for our times.
I think by canonizing them together, the Holy Father Pope Francis wants us to be courageous, and optimistic, about where the Lord is taking the Church. This is a new Springtime for the Church, I believe; a new Pentecost. And many, many graces will come through the intercession of these two saints. I encourage people, if they are in Rome, to visit the shrines of these two new saints in Saint Peter’s [Basilica], and if they are home, to ask the intercession of these two saints, who certainly believed that nothing is impossible to God. They will be powerful intercessors for us now in Heaven.
ZENIT: Having worked with John Paul II while he was alive, what were your impressions of him, and his character?
Monsignor Figueiredo: First of all, his anthropological vision – his vision of the human person. Pope John Paul II had all the time in the world for you. I think it ran through his pontificate. [We see this from] his very first encyclical Redemptor Homines: Christ is the Way for Man.[He saw] every individual as important. Certainly, I recognized that each time I would serve John Paul II. I remember taking my parents to Mass in his private residence, and he would remember who they were, where they were from, and it was as if his whole attention was completely focused on them. [Secondly, was] his great example of suffering. I think it was the greatest badge of honor that he wore, and just to be in the presence of a man who went forward, despite all of the difficulties, really became an example to everyone because everyone bears a cross. We’ve seen [the photo of] him leaning on that famous cross, and it’s almost as if he put all of his own suffering in the suffering of Christ… It was that divine strength that enabled him to go forward in all of his sufferings.
The third element for John Paul II, having myself witnessed World Youth Day – my own vocation really being bolstered by those WYDs – was his prophetic vision. He called us to aim high, not to be afraid to throw open the doors to Christ, and certainly in his own visits to so many countries. It was his example. He gave us courage ourselves to go forward.
ZENIT: In what ways, would you say, were John XXIII and John Paul II similar?
Monsignor Figueiredo: Certainly, John XXIII was the good Pope. He had some very beautiful reflections. His journal of the soul is just a jewel for seminarians, but also for every Christian on living a very simple life toward holiness.
He was seen very much as a caretaker pope, but then he too had that great prophetic vision. He called a council, and wanted the Church, Christ, the Gospel, to be relevant to people today. Prophecy is not to peer into the future, but it is reading the signs of the times today in order to be optimistic about them. He had a great optimism, but it was an optimism borne from realism.
The second element was his love for people. We saw that from his helping Jews in Turkey. But even in the very simple ways that he would reach out to people. He was a pastor and he was a father.
The third element was he never forgot where he came from. He really had a lot of suffering in his life. He came from a peasant family, where it was difficult to put bread on the table.
Even calling the council he was very aware – and he said it himself – it wasn’t reaching a summit. It was really the royal road to the Cross, climbing up Calvary. He knew it would bring many difficulties, but it was necessary to pass that Cross in order to open the Church and open the human person to a new future.
I think for both popes – we’re living it very much now with Pope Francis – there are these three elements. First, a prophetic vision for the future, for without a vision the people perish. Secondly, the focus on the human person, every individual. And the third element, which the Popes never cease to remind us of, is that the Cross and suffering are a necessary path to travel along in order to reach the glory of the Resurrection.
Pope Benedict too said: Only from God, does true revolution come, and only saints change the world.