Two tapestries, each bearing the image of the newly-declared saints, hung from the façade of Saint Peter’s basilica, overlooking the hundreds of thousands of people who had filled Saint Peter’s Square for the occasion. Thousands more poured into the streets around the Vatican, took part in the Mass by watching it on giant screens. Most notable was the vast number of pilgrims from Poland who have travelled to Rome – by bus, plane, and even on foot – to witness the canonization of the first Polish pope.
One of the special guests attending the Mass was Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who himself had beatified John Paul II, his predecessor and friend.
Opening his homily, Pope Francis noted that the canonizations coincide with Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast instituted by John Paul II. To mark this feast, the Holy Father reflected on “the glorious wounds of the risen Jesus”.
In the Gospel reading for the day, he spoke of how Christ had already appeared to the Apostles, with the exception of Thomas, who said he would not believe Jesus had Risen until he placed his finger in His wounds. It was not until Jesus appeared to them again that he believed, proclaiming “My Lord and my God!" (Jn 20:28).
“The wounds of Jesus are a scandal, a stumbling block for faith, yet they are also the test of faith,” the Holy Father said. “That is why on the body of the risen Christ the wounds never pass away: they remain, for those wounds are the enduring sign of God’s love for us. They areessential for believing in God. Not for believing that God exists, but for believing that God is love, mercy and faithfulness.”
John XXIII and John Paul II, however, were men who “were not afraid to look upon the wounds of Jesus, to touch his torn hands and his pierced side. They were not ashamed of the flesh of Christ, they were not scandalized by him, by his cross,” seeing Jesus in all those who suffer and struggle.
These courageous men, he said, were “filled with the parrhesia of the Holy Spirit,” bearing “witness before the Church and the world to God’s goodness and mercy.”
John XXIII and John Paul II, he said, were “priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century”: they “lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother”.
In their willingness to look “upon the wounds of Christ” and bear “witness to his mercy,” there dwelt within them “a living hope and an indescribable and glorious joy” (1 Pet 1:3,8).
Pope Francis also recalled how “John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the Church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries”.
“In convening the Council, John XXIII showed an exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit. He let himself be led and he was for the Church a pastor, a servant-leader. This was his great service to the Church”.
For his part, the Holy Father continued, “John Paul II was the pope of the family,” recalling the upcoming Synod on the family. “From his place in heaven,” he said, “he guides and sustains” in the journey toward the Synod.
Pope Francis called on the faithful to look to these saints to learn how “not to be scandalized by the wounds of Christ and to enter ever more deeply into the mystery of divine mercy, which always hopes and always forgives, because it always loves”.
In his short Regina Caeli address following Mass, the Pope greeted all those who had traveled to Rome for the event, and thanked all those who had contributed to its success. He made special mention of those pilgrims from Bergamo and Krakow – the cities where John XXIII and John Paul II came from, respectively. “You honor the memory of the two holy Popes, faithfully following their teachings”.
He also welcomed those representing the many countries around the world, who had come to “give tribute to the two pontiffs who had contributed in an indelible way to the development of peoples, and to peace.