2 popes on the verge of sainthood

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

CEBU -- The Manila restaurant where Pope John Paul II dined during his 1995 pilgrimage to the Philippines shows off the spoon, fork, water goblet, knives and table napkin he used -- all still unwashed after his meal of grilled fish and fried shrimp.

Elsewhere in this predominantly Catholic nation, shopping malls this month are showing strands of his silvery-white hair and a piece of the sheet from his deathbed.

Relics of John Paul have enjoyed a boom ever since the beloved pope was beatified in 2011, and they are gaining heightened significance ahead of his canonization.


The phenomenon has been fueled by John Paul’s longtime Polish confidant and secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz, who doles them out to churches that request them. The Vatican also played a role in the relic fever by breaking its own rules to allow worldwide veneration of John Paul’s relics as soon as he was beatified, rather than waiting until he became a saint.

2 pope on the verge of sainthood
SOMETHING THE FAITHFUL CAN GRASP.  A worshipper holds a photo of Pope John Paul II during a mass in Saint Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, ahead of Sunday’s Vatican ceremony where Pope Francis will elevate John XXIII and John Paul II to sainthood. (AP)

Irish Julia Feniquito, a 24-year-old nurse in Quezon City, was still wearing her blue scrubs and looking to buy a dress when she passed by a traveling exhibit of John Paul relics in one shopping mall. She kneeled to pray for several minutes in front of a makeshift altar and wrote her reflections on a sheet of paper, which she slipped into a box under a papal skull cap.

“His aura, when you first see him, you can tell that he is very holy,” Feniquito said.

Opening the Church

On radio, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said that Filipinos pay tribute to Pope John XXIII for installing the first Filipino cardinal, Rufino Cardinal Santos, and Pope John Paul II, whose 1981 visit in the country precipitated the official end of Martial Law, which the late President Ferdinand Marcos declared in 1972.

“We join the Catholic world and all people of goodwill as Pope Francis proclaims the sainthood of Popes John XXIII, who opened the windows of the Church to the modern era; and John Paul II, who proclaimed the Gospel so fearlessly to tyrants and embraced the world,” Valte said over dzRB Radyo ng Bayan.

Valte commented that Pope John Paull II’s second visit to Manila during World Youth Day in 1995 was also unforgettable “in a world of anxiety where pastoral example gives comfort to the faithful and inspires dignified discourse among all peoples.”

The canonization ceremony may last for two to three hours.

Inside a chapel on the edge of Rome, a nun uses a key to open a wooden wall panel, revealing a hidden niche. Behind glass and stitched loosely to supporting backing hangs a relic of holy suffering: the bullet-pocked, bloodstained undershirt that John Paul II was wearing when a gunman shot him in the stomach in St. Peter’s Square.

The short-sleeved garment bears the initials “JP,” sewn in red cotton thread on the label by nuns who did his laundry. Jagged rips run down from the neck and sides, made when emergency room staff tore open John Paul’s shirt as they raced to save the 60-year-old pontiff’s life.


It’s one of the most remarkable of the endlessly surfacing relics of John Paul, who will be declared a saint on Sunday in the very same square where a Turkish would-be assassin shot him on May 13, 1981. Relics of John Paul are by no means limited to Rome.

John Paul was the world’s first globe-trotting pope, and he left things associated with him scattered around the globe. To qualify as a relic, an object needs only to have been in physical contact with the saint in question.

“John Paul II probably has stuff all over the place,” considering he was the third-longest serving pontiff, said the Rev. Raymond Kupke, a professor of church history at Seton Hall University in New Jersey.

“If you think of all the places he has been, the amount of relics is enormous.”

A tiny church in the Naples hinterland packed its pews for nine days earlier this year when it displayed a gold-covered reliquary containing a drop of papal blood drawn for analysis from John Paul on his last day on Earth.


For the faithful, it’s a profoundly moving testament to the pope’s courage in the face of death and suffering.

Amid the proliferation of John Paul relics, Vatican experts say, it’s important to make key distinctions: relics are categorized by the Vatican as “first-class” (those that are part of the saint’s body, such as bones or blood), “second-class” (items owned or used by a saint) and “third-class” (mostly things that were touched by the saint).

Selling relics is sacrilegious—but nothing stops the faithful from making a donation to whoever provided the relic, or purchasing the often ornate container holding the relic itself.

“Something tangible must be left behind. A proof that he really existed,” said Bogusia Weglik, a middle-aged woman from Wadowice, after praying at the basilica. “Something for the next generations, or else they will turn wild.”

The other pope to become a saint on Sunday—John XXIII—has not attracted anywhere near the relic frenzy of John Paul. John XXIII, who called the revolutionary Vatican II Council, only served as pope for less than five years, and there are simply not that many objects associated with him.

“Fifty years (after his death) there aren’t relics, not only first-class ones, but not even second-class ones,” said Monsignor Giulio Dellavite, an official of the diocese of Bergamo, in northern Italy, where John XXIII grew up. “We receive requests from all over the world, for relics for altars, but we cannot satisfy them.”

However, an urn containing bone fragments from John XXIII used in his Vatican saint-making ceremony will be sent to Bergamo’s cathedral, so the faithful will be able to venerate him there. (AP/With SDR & FP of Sunnex)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 27, 2014.

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