Cardinal Wuerl Reflects on Canonizations of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II

Sunday, April 27, 2014

WASHINGTON – Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, today concelebrated a Mass with Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City where Pope John XXIII and John Paul II were named new saints of the Catholic Church.

In reflecting on today’s canonization, Cardinal Wuerl said, “Today the Church canonized two holy men of our age, Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II. Each gave profound witness to the Gospel, and this moment of grace provides an opportunity to express our appreciation for their lives, love and guidance.

“Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, who took the name John XXIII as Pope, was truly a pastor of souls, observing that the answer to the many problems mankind faces today is the firm foundation of God. ‘Good Pope John’ was an almost preternaturally cheerful man whose warmth radiated from many photographs on magazine covers. While he is primarily remembered for his prophetic calling of the Second Vatican Council, he should also be remembered for his work toward peace and fraternity with separated eastern Christians and his efforts to save Jewish refugees from Nazi persecution.

“Through the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII called upon us to present faithfully and in its entirety the teaching of the Church but in a way that would attract people to the beauty of the teaching. He had a background in diplomatic service to the Church where he put into practice the idea of working with people, collaborating with people and listening to people. When he was elected pope, it seemed natural for him to say that we need to listen to the Church throughout the world to see how best we can carry on her work.

“The Second Vatican Council can be seen as the impetus for the New Evangelization championed by Pope John Paul II and his successors. That effort to proclaim Jesus’ Gospel anew in today’s world began in a special way more than 50 years ago with Saint John XXIII’s opening of the Council.

“When the Polish-born Karol Wojtyla first appeared on the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica as the new Pope John Paul II, most people did not know him, but in his more than 26 years as pope, people felt they knew him personally as he traveled to more than 130 countries sharing Christ’s love and hope. When he made his first visit to the United States in 1979, the cover of Time magazine was emblazoned with his picture and the words ‘John Paul, Superstar.’ Practically everywhere he went, people chanted ‘JP2, we love you.’ With his spiritual leadership and witness of hope, he played a key role in in the liberation of Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War. When he died, leaders from nearly every country in the world came to his funeral, together with millions of pilgrims.

“The magisterium of John Paul II covered almost every aspect of human experience and the Church. He wrote and spoke about the divine mercy of Jesus, the unconditional love of our heavenly Father, the power of the Holy Spirit and the affection of our Blessed Mother Mary. He taught us about the gift of the Eucharist, the truth and vocation of the human person, the beauty of a moral life, the blessing of marriage and family, the priesthood, social justice, the dignity of every human life and more. Those teachings alone have earned him the title ‘John Paul the Great.’

“One of the things I’ve tried to reflect in my ministry is how he never stopped teaching. No matter where he was or what he was saying or who his audience was, he was always teaching. Through his example, I saw how our ministry is a gift from Jesus for his Church but it’s something we should be exercising every minute of every day.

“He initiated the New Evangelization and invited all of us to turn to everyone around us and share the good news that God loves us. He also provided a sublime example of priesthood in his ministry, inspiring countless vocations. It will be a great joy to change the sign outside of our archdiocesan seminary to Saint John Paul II Seminary.”

Cardinal Wuerl was priest secretary to Cardinal John Wright in 1978 when the College of Cardinals elected Pope John Paul II as pontiff. In 1986, Cardinal Wuerl was ordained a bishop by Pope John Paul II at St. Peter’s Basilica. The pontiff gave Cardinal Wuerl one of his miters, a tall bishop’s hat used for liturgy, as a gift at the time. In 2011, Cardinal Wuerl wrote a book, The Gift of Blessed John Paul II, about the vision St. John Paul had for the Church and for the world.

In official Church procedures there are three steps to sainthood: a candidate becomes “Venerable,” then “Blessed” and then “Saint.” Venerable is the title given to a deceased person recognized formally by the pope as having lived heroic virtues. To be beatified and recognized as a Blessed, normally one miracle acquired through the candidate’s intercession is required in addition to recognition of heroic virtue or martyrdom. Canonization requires a second miracle after beatification, though a pope may waive these requirements, as was the case for John XXIII. Canonization is the formal process by which the Church declares a person to be a saint and worthy of veneration universally.

For additional video and audio reflections from Cardinal Wuerl, please visit


The Archdiocese of Washington is home to over 620,000 Catholics, 139 parishes and 96 Catholic schools, located in Washington, D.C., and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.

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