By Sonnie Ekwowusi
I guess the 300,000 or more mourners (In fact Pope John 11’s funeral is said to have attracted the largest gathering of statesmen in human history) that thronged St. Peter’s Square on April 8, 2005 to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul 11 might have been edified by two things. One: the cheap casket in which the remains of the Pope rested. During his life on earth, John Paul 11 detested anything showy or extravagant. Therefore it was no surprise that prior to his death; he instructed that his burial should be similar to that of Pope Paul VI, completely without any expensive casket and funeral extravagance.
Second: the sight of a chanting crowd carrying the banners with bold inscription, “Santo subito!” (May he be made a saint immediately!) clamouring for the Pope’s immediate canonization. But because the Catholic Church doesn’t base her decision to canonize a candidate on majority votes or popular agitation, she had to await the verdict of the rigorous studies and investigations of a group of Church experts entrusted with the mandate to study and investigate the life of John Paul 11 and those miracles attributed to his intercession. Usually, two miracles attributed to a candidate’s intercession are required to proclaim the candidate a saint. When eventually the said verdict was made public, it showed that a French nun who prayed to God through the intercession of John Paul 11 was miraculously healed of her Parkinson’s disease. It was mainly on the strength of this miracle that John Paul II was beatified in 2011. The second miracle, which occurred after his beatification involved a Costa Rican woman who was cured of a cerebral aneurysm, in fact on the very day of John Paul II’s beatification.
This second miracle paved the way for John Paul 11’s canonization. Therefore this Sunday, April 27, at St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul 11, the man from a distant country and the great man of the Second Vatican Council, will be canonized. With effect from the aforesaid date, he would be addressed as St. Pope John Paul 11 or preferably, St. Pope John Paul 11 the great. To be canonized alongside with him, is Pope John XX11, another great man of the Second Vatican Council, in fact, the convener of that Council.
I think one thing which needs to be repeated in acknowledging that Pope John Paul 11 was one of the towering figures that shaped the 20th Century is his dogged commitment to justice, unity and peace. Throughout his pontificate which began on October 16, 1978 with the moral exhortation: “Be not afraid”, he was never tired of repeating that truth, justice, love, freedom and peace stood at the heart of true religion. On the occasion of his meeting with King Hassan 11 in Morocco on August 19th, 1985, in which well over 80,000 youths were in attendance, the Pope presented different ways of collaboration between Christians and Muslims. He also spoke about the commitment to justice; respect for the rights of man, promotion of peace, tolerance, and of freedom of conscience and freedom of expression of the others. The Pope visited Nigeria twice, first in February 1982 and second in 1998 when Sani Abacha was in power and when Nigeria was experiencing a great economic and political turmoil. Ostensibly to stress the importance of unity in Nigeria at that time, the Pope used the word “reconciliation” about 28 times during his sermon in Oba near Onitsha. According to the Pope, without reconciliation and forgiveness, “the world will look more and more like a battlefield where only selfish interests count and the law of force prevails”.
The Pope’s meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev on 22nd December, 1989 is still being hailed by many as the catalyst that not only led to the sowing of the seeds of perestroika and grasnot but the dramatic crumbling of communism. The fall of the Berlin Wall produced positive effects in Germany, Hungry, in the old Chezslovakia and Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Albania and other countries.
One common strand running through the writings of Pope John Paul 11 is his deep understanding of contemporary human condition, modern fears and restlessness and his ability to impregnate them with deep supernatural hope. Certainly Papal biographer George Weigel is right in stressing that Pope John Paul 11 was an ironic figure of the 20th century because his teaching, “which has emerged from a profound philosophical and theological reflection… has demonstrated the resilience, indeed the indispensability, of religious conviction in addressing the crisis of contemporary humanism”. In other words, without religious values and transcendental truths, the pursuit of justice, peace and genuine development will greatly be robbed of their true meanings. As T.S Elliot once wrote, “if you remove from ‘human’ all that the belief in the supernatural has given to man, you can view him finally as no more than an extremely clever, adaptable, and mischievous little animal”
As Pope John Paul 11 returns to the Vatican on Sunday April 27 this time as a saint, let us resolve to embrace his enduring legacies in tackling today’s anthropological cataclysm and deconstruction of consciences aimed at reducing the human person to the level of an animal.