On Divine Mercy Sunday, in the presence of Pope Francis, his living predecessor Benedict XVI, and hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from around the world, the Church celebrated the canonization of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II.
In the weeks leading up to Sunday's event, the faithful were invited to recall the examples of holiness demonstrated by these 20th century leaders of the Church, as well as their significant historical legacies.
Fr. Robert Barron is the rector of the Chicago Archdiocese's Mundelein Seminary, and the founder of the online initiative Word On Fire Catholic Ministries. While he was in Rome for the canonizations, he sat down with ZENIT to speak about these two newly-declared saints.
ZENIT: What can we learn from John XXIII and John Paul II about sainthood? Obviously, they had extraordinary lives insofar that they were both popes. At the same time, not all popes are saints…
Fr. Barron: …and not all saints are popes. To be a saint is to be a person of heroic virtue. These are world historical figures, but if that was the qualification for sainthood, then the Little Flower [St. Therese] wouldn’t be a saint, for example.
That’s a good point of meditation. What makes them saints is that they are people of heroic virtue. You’re looking at the cardinal virtues of justice, and prudence, and temperance and courage. The theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. The Church says these men exemplify those virtues in a heroic way.
A couple of examples: think of John XXIII saving upwards of, they think, 24,000 or 25,000 Jews during the Nazi period, all at great risk to himself. Justice and courage are both on pretty strong display there.
[Look at] John Paul’s commitment to justice: he’s one of the great spokespersons of the 20th century. He displayed extraordinary courage: as a young kid dealing with the Nazi occupation, as a young priest, dealing with the communists, going to Poland as Pope and speaking truth in the midst of this oppression.