- Posted April 23, 2014 by
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The Day He was Proclaimed “Blessed”
“…Facimus ut venerabilis Servus Dei Ioannes Paulus II, papa, Beati nomine in posterum appelletur…” (“…we grant that the venerable Servant of God, John Paul II, Pope, from now on, will be called Blessed…”) On May 1, 2011, the voice of Pope Benedict XVI resounded from the loudspeakers at St. Peter’s Square and Via della Conciliazione to the other places in Rome where pilgrims gathered, to the homes of people around the world, like the Urbi et Orbi of Christmas and Easter: to the city and to the world. The message was loud and clear: we have a new Blessed—one that the world has seen in very recent times, one whose memory is as fresh as the moment the present pope took the helm of the Catholic Church. And now (together with Blessed John XXIII) he is about to be proclaimed “Saint”!
Before this Sunday’s big event, the canonization, absorbs the memory of the beatification and eventually brings it into oblivion, let me recall that day when Pope John Paul was proclaimed “Blessed.”
I was among the great crowd at St. Peter’s Square (a crowd that overflowed into the surrounding streets) for the joyous event of May 1. Pope Benedict’s words of proclamation dissolved into the thunderous applause that lasted for minutes. People from different nations were there—an attestation that Blessed John Paul II is loved not only in Poland but by the whole world.
The proclamation that was almost simultaneously followed by the unveiling of the picture of the new Blessed was a whiff of new wind for me. Not so long ago I was accustomed to hear the late Pope John Paul II proclaiming such words in raising men and women to the altar. In the beatification rite the tables had been turned: the pope who beatified 1,338 and canonized 482 men and women (more than those beatified and canonized by all his predecessors combined) is himself proclaimed blessed.
The mass that began midmorning ended beyond midday. When the liturgy was over, the number of people did not diminish. They had to squeeze themselves to get out or come in. Later in the afternoon the pilgrims fell in line to venerate the relics of the new Blessed inside St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a veritable déjà vu for a lot of people, for six years before, crowds lined up to pay their respects to the remains of the same man. “SANTO SUBITO” (literally, “Saint, at once!”) the slogan written in not a few placards and shouted in the same Square in those days turned out to be prophetic. For the remains of six years ago are now officially relics of a beatified man. At early evening I was queuing to venerate the relics. For not less than three hours we awaited our turn. It was a solemn moment: I moved slowly around the casket that bore the relics of Blessed John Paul II.
Hours before that I was alone in front of his huge picture that loomed over St. Peter’s Square. A lot of memories of the new blessed came to me: when I saw him on TV when he first came to the Philippines in 1981; when I saw him for the first time in 1995 during the World Youth Day in Manila; the moments I held his hand in 2001 and in 2003; the Christmas mass where I read a prayer intention; the various masses he presided; his writings that I have read; from the pope walking with a lot of effort to the pope who was wheeled to the liturgical celebrations in his last years.
I remember that in the last years of his pontificate, as he suffered, he had strong words against war: “There can be no justice without peace.” And this was in the context of the running theme of his pontificate of many years: “Be not afraid.” He spoke of “opening wide the doors to Christ.” He spoke of hope when he led us into the new millennium. At the beginning, hope; at the end, peace. And what do we hope for? We hope for well being, we hope for reconciliation, we hope for peace. Blessed John Paul II spoke of these. Peace and hope—virtues that young people need and yearn for. Prophetic indeed: as were the words of the people who at his funeral and later at his beatification shouted: “SANTO SUBITO!” For nine years after his death and barely three years after his beatification, he will be called SAINT.