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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Pope John Paul II looks at the faithful gathered at the Colosseum during the traditional Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) Good Friday service in Rome in this
A pril 18, 2003, file photo. C
NS photo/Max Rossi, Reuters

Pope Benedict:
John Paul's ministry, agony
showed his love of Christ

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope John Paul II's intense pastoral ministry, "but even more, the Calvary of agony and the serene death of our beloved pope let all people of our age know that Jesus Christ really was his everything," Pope Benedict XVI said.

Pope Benedict marked the second anniversary of Pope John Paul's death by celebrating a memorial Mass the evening of April 2 in St. Peter's Square.

The pope said his predecessor truly fit the biblical description of a "servant of God," which is the way the church officially refers to him while "his process of beatification quickly progresses."

Pope Benedict, who had set aside the five-year waiting period usually required before a sainthood cause begins, told tens of thousands of people in St. Peter's Square that the initial, diocesan phase of Pope John Paul's cause had concluded earlier in the day.

While the church has not solemnly proclaimed Pope John Paul a saint in heaven, Pope Benedict said he is certain that "our beloved John Paul II" continues to accompany the church with his prayers.

At the same time, he offered prayers that Pope John Paul, "our father, brother and friend," would enjoy eternal rest and peace in the company of God.

The pope praised his predecessor's ability to share with the world his faith, hope and charity, even as Parkinson's disease gradually made it impossible for him to walk and, ultimately, to talk.

"Especially with the slow, but relentless progression of his illness, which little by little stripped him of everything, he made himself an offering to Christ, a living proclamation of his passion, in a hope filled with faith in the resurrection," Pope Benedict said.

"Like his divine master, he lived his agony in prayer," the pope said. "He died praying. Truly, he fell asleep in the Lord."

Sitting near the front of the crowd was Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, the 46-year-old French nun who believes she was healed of Parkinson's disease through Pope John Paul's intervention.

Guy Murphy of the Chicago-based Totally Yours Pilgrimages was at the Mass with 45 pilgrims from the United States.
"We are big John Paul II fans," he said.

Murphy said he was not concerned that the church was taking its time officially proclaiming the late pope a saint -- "sometimes it takes hundreds of years" -- but he has no doubt that "John Paul is one of the greatest saints ever."

Earlier in the day, during a ceremony marked by prayers, song and formal oaths in Latin, officials of the Diocese of Rome concluded the initial phase of Pope John Paul's sainthood cause.

The process had included interviews with more than 120 people who knew Pope John Paul and a study of his ministry, the way he handled suffering and how he faced his death, said Cardinal Camillo Ruini, papal vicar of Rome.

"In the certainty of being loved by God and in the joy of responding to that love," the late pope "found the meaning, unity and aim of his life," Cardinal Ruini said during the prayer service in the Basilica of St. John Lateran.

The documents from the investigation were placed in five chests, latched, tied with a red ribbon, then sealed with red wax. They will be delivered to the Congregation for Saints' Causes for further study.

"The pope suffered in his flesh and he suffered in his spirit, finding himself increasingly obliged to reduce his commitments," Cardinal Ruini said. His occasional "signs of impatience" were not the result of pain, but of his frustration at not being able to continue the ministry to which he felt called, the cardinal added.

Cardinal Ruini described Pope John Paul as a man of continuous, intense prayer, "concrete and radical poverty" and great freedom, which allowed him to stand up to Poland's communist government.

His love for God was lived as love for human beings, leading the pope to be an insistent voice for peace and for the defense of human life from conception to natural death, the cardinal said.

Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre, a member of the Little Sisters of Catholic Motherhood, was at the prayer service, as were Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, Pope John Paul's personal secretary for almost 40 years, and Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

Celebrating a televised Mass early in the morning at Pope John Paul's tomb in St. Peter's Basilica, Cardinal Dziwisz called the late pope an "extraordinary witness" of Christ.

"John Paul II was a member of the friends of Jesus, that is, the group of saints. Membership in this group was what gave meaning and direction to his life, to all he did and said," Cardinal Dziwisz said.

"The people of God clearly recognize his sanctity," he said.

Cardinal Dziwisz and others have pointed out that Pope Benedict could beatify or even canonize Pope John Paul immediately, without waiting for the Congregation for Saints' Causes to conclude its work.

Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, congregation prefect, said that unless or until he hears otherwise from the pope the congregation will continue the process according to established church law: first, studying the documentation gathered by the Diocese of Rome and assisting with the drafting of a "positio," or position paper, outlining how Pope John Paul heroically lived the Christian virtues.

The 15 cardinals and 15 bishops who are members of the congregation will study the "positio" and forward their opinion to the pope, he told the newspaper La Repubblica.

At the same time, he said, "an ad hoc commission of experts with scientists and physicians of every religious orientation, even nonbelievers," will be convoked to study the records and testimony collected in the case of Sister Marie-Simon-Pierre.

"It will be up to them to establish whether or not it is a healing that is scientifically inexplicable," the cardinal said. "Only in the light of this scientific pronouncement will a later commission of cardinals declare whether it is a miracle that can be attributed to the intercession" of Pope John Paul.

A declaration of heroic virtues and recognition of a miracle usually are needed before beatification. In the usual process, canonization requires another miracle attributed to the candidate's intervention after the beatification.


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