4th Sunday of Lent

Dear Friends in Christ,

On Divine Mercy Sunday, 27 April 2014, Pope Francis will canonize two of the most beloved Bishops of Rome of all time: Pope John XXIIIand Pope John Paul II.

John XXIII was born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli on 25 November 1881; he was the fourth of fourteen children, and his parents were poor sharecroppers. After priestly ordination in 1904, he entered the Diplomatic Service of the Holy See and eventually served as papal nuncio to several countries before becoming Patriarch of Venice in 1953. In 1958, at the age of 76, he was elected the 261st Bishop of Rome, taking the name John — after the Apostle and Evangelist — and the number XXIII, thus settling a 500 year old argument about the numbering of popes named John because of the Great Western Schism of 1378 to 1418. (Yea, the Church has been at this business for a while. The papacy is, after all, the oldest continuing office in the world.) Papa Roncalli (in Italy, popes are known both by their regnal name and their family surname) surprised the Church and the world by calling the Second Vatican Council, which he convened on 11 October 1962, and he died on 3 June 1963.

John Paul II was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla on 18 May 1920; he was the third and youngest child of Karol and Emilia Wojtyla. His father was a non-commissioned officer in the Imperial and Royal Army of the Empire of Austria-Hungary, and after the end of the Empire following World War I, the elder Wojtyla became a captain in the Polish Army. Young Karol’s sister died before his birth, then his mother died when he was eight, and his brother and father both died before he was 21 — leaving him without family in a nation devastated by war and crushed under the boots first of Nazis and then of Communists. In that crucible, Karol heard his call to the altar. Wojtyla was ordained to the priesthood in 1946 and became Auxiliary Bishop of Krakow in 1958; he served as Archbishop of Krakow from 1964 until his election as the 264th Bishop of Rome in 1978. His pontificate was the second longest in history, and during those nearly 27 years, John Paul completed the implementation of the Second Vatican Council and launched the Church on the New Evangelization after leading us across the threshold of the Third Millennium. He died on 2 April 2005, the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday — the feast he inaugurated on the Second Sunday of Easter in the year 2000.

In the month between now and the canonization of these two extraordinary men of faith, please take the opportunity to learn more about their lives and their service to the Church as the Successor of St. Peter. Millions of pilgrims will descend on Rome for this historic event, and we can share in the splendor of that day if we understand clearly what these men accomplished as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Father Newman