I HAVE spent the past few days in Rome attending meetings at the Vatican.
The city of Rome is a city of saints and martyrs of the Church.
One cannot walk far before encountering the statues, shrines, relics, churches, stories of the saints and blesseds who are such important bearers and role models of our Catholic tradition.
The Church commemorates the Feast of All Saints on November 1.
The earliest certain observance of a feast in honour of all the saints is an early fourth-century commemoration of “all the martyrs”.
In the early seventh century, after successive waves of invaders plundered the catacombs, Pope Boniface IV gathered up about 28 wagonloads of bones and reinterred them beneath the Pantheon, a Roman temple dedicated to all the gods.
The pope rededicated the shrine as a Christian church.
According to the great historian, the Venerable Bede, the pope intended “that the memory of all the saints might in the future be honoured in the place which had formerly been dedicated to the worship not of gods but of demons”.
But the rededication of the Pantheon, like the earlier commemoration of all the martyrs, occurred in May.
Many Eastern Churches still honour all the saints in the northern spring, either during the Easter season or immediately after Pentecost.
The Anglo-Saxon theologian Alcuin observed the feast on November 1 in 800, as did his friend Arno, Bishop of Salzburg.
Rome finally adopted that date in the ninth century.
November is the month of the saints. It is also a good opportunity to take stock of the way Pope John Paul II changed our way of viewing the saints and blesseds.
The way of “reading” saints has changed.
In only 26 years of pontificate, Blessed John Paul II gave the Church more than 1338 blesseds and 482 saints.
They are travel companions, in joy and suffering.
This was precisely the pope’s message: Holiness is not a gift reserved for a few. We can all aspire to it, because it is a goal within our capacity — a great lesson reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council and its call to universal call to holiness.
Is it possible to sketch a model of holiness à la John Paul II? It is a holiness lived day in, day out. A saint is an authentic, concrete person, as John Paul II has told us over and over again.
That person’s testimony of life attracts, teaches and draws, because it manifests a transparent human experience, full of the presence of Christ. For the Polish pontiff, the call to holiness excludes no one; it is not the privilege of a spiritual elite.
The real “stars” of John Paul II’s pontificate were the saints and blesseds who did not try to be regarded as heroes, or to shock or provoke. A saint is an ordinary person.
He too was an extraordinary witness who, through his heroic efforts and especially his suffering, communicated the powerful message of the Gospel.
A great part of the success of his message is due to the fact he was surrounded by a tremendous cloud of witnesses who stood by him and strengthened him. He introduced us to his many friends who form that cloud of witnesses: they are none other than the blesseds and the saints.
Fr Thomas M. Rosica, CSB, is chief executive officer of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. He assists Holy See spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi.