Enrique Martinez Associated Press Floribeth Mora of Costa Rica looks at a bust of Pope John Paul II at the archbishop's office in San Jose, Costa Rica, while describing how she was cured of a terminal cerebral aneurysm after praying to John Paul on the day of his beatification.

Francis speeds sainthood of two papal predecessors

Published: Saturday, Jul. 6, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6A
Last Modified: Monday, Jul. 8, 2013 - 7:53 am

VATICAN CITY – Showing more of his sprightly personality and his priorities, Pope Francis sped two of his predecessors toward sainthood on Friday: John Paul II, who guided the Roman Catholic Church during the end of the Cold War, and John XXIII, who assembled the liberalizing Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.

In approving the sainthood of John XXIII even without a second miracle attributable to the pontiff, Francis took the rare step of bypassing the Vatican bureaucracy. Francis also said a Vatican committee had accepted the validity of a second miracle attributed to the intercession of John Paul.

Both popes are expected to be canonized before the end of the year.

Also on Friday, Pope Francis issued his first encyclical – a rich meditation on faith and love co-written with his immediate predecessor, Benedict XVI, that clearly displays their different styles: Francis' more conversational, Benedict's more intellectual.

The canonization cause for John Paul began almost immediately after his death in 2005. At his funeral, crowds in St. Peter's Square began shouting "Santo subito," or "Sainthood now," for the beloved pope. He was beatified in May 2011, after a Vatican committee credited him with interceding to cure a French nun, Marie Simon-Pierre Normand, of Parkinson's disease, the same malady from which the pontiff suffered.

The second miracle attributed to John Paul is said to be the healing of a woman who prayed to the pope on the day of his beatification.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said Francis was eager to canonize John XXIII.

But he played down the fact that Francis had bypassed a second miracle. "There are lots of theologians who in fact discuss the principle of the fact that it's necessary to have two distinct miracles."

Alberto Melloni, a Vatican historian and director of the John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies, a liberal Catholic research institute in Bologna, Italy, said the canonizations were an important nod to the more liberal wing of the Catholic Church. They "mark the end of a season that cast doubts over the Second Vatican Council, a season of some mistrust," he said.

"Many … criticized (the council) as too weak and with too many compromises, but failed to feel the spirit of the council," he added. "Both popes were bishops at the council, not theologians."

Melloni said it was significant that Francis had bypassed the need for a second miracle attributed to John XXIII. Perhaps he decided "that the people of God have already made a judgment about the two popes," he said.

At John Paul II's beatification ceremony, which drew 1.5 million, Benedict lauded John Paul II as a central figure in 20th-century history and a hero of the church.

While Benedict's first encyclical, "God Is Love," drew on the work of John Paul, Francis' first encyclical, "Lumen Fidei," or "The Light of Faith," released on Friday, is the first that the Vatican has openly acknowledged was written by two popes together.

The encyclical calls on believers and seekers alike to explore how God can enrich their lives.

It also urges Catholics to uphold the church's conception of the family. "The first setting in which faith enlightened the human city is the family," Francis writes. "I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage."

The encyclical's final chapter, which touches on the role of faith in reinforcing the common good, recalls the informal, immediate style of Francis, a low-key Argentine Jesuit who regularly gives off-the-cuff sermons and chose to live in a Vatican dormitory instead of the Apostolic Palace.

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