By Peter Bugden
“SIMPLY amazing” is how young Brisbane Catholic Jo Hayes described being at St Peter’s Square in Rome on Sunday for the canonisations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.
“I feel so blessed and so grateful that I was able to be in Vatican City … just on the edge of St Peter’s Square for the canonisations …” Miss Hayes said, reflecting on the experience of being among more than a million people at the event.
She was there on pilgrimage and woke at 2.30am to be at St Peter’s by 3am to wait about six hours for the start of the Mass for the canonisations by Pope Francis.
“It was such a beautiful experience to be surrounded by so many Catholics celebrating the lives and the influence of these two great men who influenced the Church and the world in such incredible ways,” she said.
Toowoomba Bishop Robert McGuckin, who was the only Queensland bishop at the canonisations, said he was “truly blessed” to be able to be there.
“I was privileged to concelebrate with Pope Francis and Pope Benedict along with around 1000 other bishops,” he said.
Bishop McGuckin said it was “a wonderful and prayerful atmosphere by the million-plus who attended”.
“After the Mass I visited the tombs of the two new saints and prayed for our Church in Toowoomba and Australia,” he said.
Other Australian bishops attending included Parramatta Bishop Anthony Fisher, Sydney archdiocese apostolic administrator Bishop Peter Comensoli, Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay of the Maronite eparchy and Port Pirie Bishop Greg O’Kelly.
Apostolic nuncio Archbishop Paul Gallagher also attended.
Bishop Fisher, on his blog from Rome, said “It was a wonderful atmosphere of excitement and prayer”.
“Many slept out overnight amidst fog and threats of rain but in very good spirits,” he said.
“… Then the moment came where Pope Francis proclaimed these blesseds as saints, with the relics we were now in the company of two of the greatest men of the 20th century.”
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge reflected on the event of having two popes canonised on the same day.
“It’s been said that the Second Vatican Council would never have started without John XXIII nor ever finished without Paul VI,” he said.
“The claim could be extended. The Second Vatican Council could not have happened without Pius XII who with his various reforms prepared the way.
“The Council would never have been consolidated without John Paul II and Benedict XVI; and that consolidation is bearing fruit in the ministry of Pope Francis, whose coming to the papacy was made possible by Pope Benedict’s resignation.”
Archbishop Coleridge said Pope Benedict’s resignation “de-mystified the papacy in a way that makes many of Francis’ words, gestures and decisions possible”.
“Therefore, we can trace a large papal arc from Pope Pius XII through each of his successors to Pope Francis,” he said.
“It’s within that wider arc that you can better understand John XXIII and John Paul II and why Pope Francis decided to canonise them together.”