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On Religion

May 2, 2014

Two saints of Vatican II

History will show St. John XXIII was a pastor with an "exquisite openness to the Holy Spirit," while St. John Paul II will be known "as the pope of the family."

That was as close as Pope Francis came to providing the soundbite all the so-called Vatican experts were waiting to hear during the historic St. Peter's Square rites in which he -- with the retired Pope Benedict XVI looking on -- elevated to sainthood two popes who did so much to shape modern Catholicism.

The media mantra called the humble Pope John XXIII the patron saint of the left, while Pope John Paul II was the courageous general for the right. Clearly, Pope Francis' goal was to broker peace between these warring Catholic camps.

Francis stayed the course.

"St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II were ... priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century," he said. "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."

Francis then linked both saints to the Second Vatican Council, the seismic event that defined their era: "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."

So both popes sought renewal, but also to guard the faith's foundations. After all, in his Oct. 11, 1962 address that opened the Council, Pope John XXIII declared: "The greatest concern of the ecumenical council is this -- that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously."

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