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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Saints with Ukraine in heart

The canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II through the prism of the media
13 May, 2014 - 11:00

April 27 saw the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, whose pontificates coincided with the turbulent times of the 20th century. Let us recall that a few dozen years, in what the world-famous New York Times called “Satan’s century,” both pontiffs tried to change the then pattern of understanding, although a lot of ordeals, such as the postwar crisis, the Cold War, and the threat of a third world war, befell them as they held office. For this reason, Pope Francis described Pope John XXIII as “pope of peace” and Pope John Paul II as “pope of the family” at the canonization ceremony.


It is worthwhile to focus on the figures of both saints. “It is the saints who give direction and growth to the Church,” Pope Francis said in his canonization speech. Pope John XXIII (Cardinal Angelo Roncalli) originally wanted to be an ordinary rural priest. He felt this calling when he was still a child, but the Roncalli family was too poor to pay for their son’s studies. An uncle helped the boy financially, and Angelo was admitted to a seminary at the age of 12 and then passed through all the stages of church hierarchy. Electing Angelo Roncalli as successor to Saint Peter in 1958, the cardinals believed that the Italian pope would be a “compromise figure,” a temporary option, for he was old and ailing and, therefore, would not live long. But Pope John XXIII proved to be an absolute innovator, and his decisions often caused misunderstanding, disappointment, and condemnation. Yet the future saint did not give up. Peace was the main goal of his pontificate. Ensuring peace was important both politically and religiously. During the 1962 Caribbean Crisis, the Pope averted thousands, if not millions, of deaths. Aware of the ongoing US-Soviet Cold War, Pope John XXIII phoned President John Kennedy and telegraphed Nikita Khrushchev. Incidentally, the newspaper Pravda published the text of the Pope’s telegram on its front page, which looked like a miracle at the time. In 1962 Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council which lasted until 1965. Later, a lot of researchers called this period “a time to let in some fresh air.” For the first time in many years, the Pope invited representatives of Eastern churches to the council. Among them was a Ukrainian delegation led by Metropolitan Josyf Slipyj, primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who had been released from a Soviet prison camp by the efforts of no other than the Pope. As he was in internal exile, Josyf Slipyj wrote a letter to the Pope, in which he described the way the Soviet authorities tortured and otherwise harassed the Ukrainian clergy. This message outraged the Pope, and he did his utmost to get the metropolitan freed. He thus helped keep this church’s community intact and allowed it to develop in Rome by establishing the Ukrainian Catholic University and St. Sophia’s temple. By all accounts, the meetings between Pope John XXIII and Major Archbishop Slipyj were shown as best as they could in the film John XXIII: the Pope of Peace made in 2002.

The figure of Saint John Paul II is no less close to the Ukrainians. The Pope was always concerned about the situation in Ukraine. If analyzed from the angle of today, his 2001 visit speeches sound strikingly prophetic. The Pope said to the Ukrainians 13 years ago: “Your future is in your hands, it fully depends on you. To be a highly-developed society, you should put common good above personal cares – and even be prepared to give your lives for the attainment of this goal.” The Pope is also practically an exception among the saints as far as the course of beatification is concerned. By the rules, the very process of beatification begins only five years after death and is long in time. But Pope Francis did his best to speed it up because a lot of Catholic believers had already been speaking of John Paul II’s sanctity after his death. In my view, Pope John Paul II can be characterized with such word combinations as pope the idol of youth; a pope who liked wearing old shoes, going to the mountains, and mingling with children (from the book He Liked Tuesdays Best by Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki); a pope who, in spite of his personal ailment, offered a great sacrifice to the Church and the entire world.


The double canonization ceremony was televised live to Ukraine by the First National and Fifth channels. On the First National Channel, the event was commented by Khrystyna Stebelska, the channel’s chief editor, and the Reverend Oleksandr Dasik, Roman Catholic priest, doctoral student at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum). On the Fifth Channel, the comment came from Sister Renata Nutskovska, an editor at the Catholic Media Center, and Father Serhii Panchenko, an editor at the Eternal Word Television Network. Incidentally, the event could also be watched in the Internet or in cable networks – the Eternal Word Television provided a comment by Father Diego Saez Martin. The Ukrainian media report that the ceremony was attended by 150 cardinals and over 700 bishops, while 600 priests and 200 deacons administered Holy Communion to pilgrims on St. Peter’s Square. Pope Francis was also co-served by the former Pope Benedict XVI. Among the invited Ukrainian clergy were His Beatitude Sviatoslav (Shevchuk), primate of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; and Roman Catholic Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv. In addition to the clergy, delegations of the leaders of some countries were also present at the event. Incidentally, the saints’ relics were solemnly carried in by Floribeth Mora Diaz from Costa Rica, who was healed by intercession of Saint John Paul II, and the nephews of John XXIII. Also participating in the liturgy was the French nun who had been cured of Parkinson’s disease through a prayer to John Paul II.

It is not only the Ukrainian, but also the European media that covered the canonization. For example, on the eve of the event, some Italian and Vatican media carried out a special project, having gathered photos of John XXIII and the speeches John Paul II made during ceremonial services. The canonization of the beloved Pope was in the highlight of the Polish media throughout the week before April 27. Almost every day, Poland’s central TV channel, Telewizja Polska, showed feature and documentary films about John Paul II, and this event was also front-page news in newspapers. Besides, if you watched the Ukrainian channels, you could also see a lot of Polish flags on St. Peter’s Square, which meant, of course, that there were a large number of pilgrims. Yet there were also no fewer Ukrainian banners. May the prayer of our pilgrims to the new saints for peace in Ukraine be heeded!

By Yuliana LAVRYSH