By: Monika Stutzman, 15
On April 27th, the feast of Divine Mercy set the tone for the canonization of the modern era’s two most celebrated popes. The canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII was characterized by an overarching theme of mercy, as the faithful thronged to church vigils throughout Rome, taking advantage of Confession and opportunities to pray.
Born in 1920s Poland, Pope John Paul II served as the Roman pontiff from 1976 to 2005, becoming a legend of the modern age. He was particularly influential among the youth, a trait exhibited by his establishment of World Youth Day. Held every two to three years in various cities across the globe, the event gathers together millions of young people to live and experience their faith in a sort of global community. In his address to young Catholics, John Paul often repeated the ever-encouraging words, “be not afraid!”
Providentially, Divine Mercy Sunday was an especially important feast to John Paul II. In 2002, he returned to Krakow, Poland, to dedicate the Shrine of Divine Mercy. It had been built beside the convent where Saint Maria Faustina had received Jesus’ mission to spread the message of his immense mercy to mankind. Despite the eerie space-station architecture, the pope emphasized that graces were bound to flow from this shrine.
Somewhat less renown among our generation, the Italian Pope John XXIII served in the Petrine Office from 1958 to 1963. He is most famous for calling the Second Vatican Council in 1962, which led to many reforms within the life of the Church. Moreover, he held a deep concern for the personal holiness of the faithful. Before his election as pope, he wrote that “God desires us to follow the examples of the saints by absorbing the vital sap of their virtues and turning it into our own life-blood, adapting it into our own individual capacities and particular circumstances.” In this sense, John XXIII encouraged the faithful to foster prayer throughout all aspects of life.
In honoring these two outstanding examples of holiness, it is fitting that the Church concurrently celebrates this feast of Christ’s overwhelming mercy. We use this opportunity to reflect, to grow in the light of a loving God. We remember the popes’ tireless witnesses to faith as we pray, “Lord, have mercy.”