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Pope Francis to hold double canonization at the Vatican

April 20, 2014 at 5:54 PM EDT
On April 27, Pope Francis will hold an unprecedented ceremony at the Vatican: a double canonization of two former popes. What’s the significance of this event? Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Rachel Zoll, the religion writer for the Associated Press, about the specifics behind the decision to turn both Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II into saints.

HARI SREENIVASAN: On this Easter Sunday, we take a look ahead at an unprecedented event happening at the Vatican next weekend: a double canonization of two former popes who will be made saints. Here to tell us more is Rachel Zoll, she’s the religion writer for the Associated Press. So, we don’t see canonizations very often, but two at a time?

RACHEL ZOLL: This is a first, and it’s something that Pope Francis obviously approved and wanted to put into effect and he did it as part of his whole breaking with Vatican protocol and tradition, as he’s done throughout his first year of the papacy.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And so who are the two popes? And they seem to represent very different parts of the church?

RACHEL ZOLL: One is Pope John XXIII who served from 1958 to 1963 and he’s known for his modernizing reforms of the church, bringing it out into the modern world. And the other is Pope John Paul II, who served from 1978 to 2005 when he died. And he’s known for, obviously a lot of things, but he also helped uphold orthodoxy and doctrine, and was seen in a way as putting some control around, or course corrections around, the reforms that John Paul XXIII had put in place.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So were there political considerations here? I mean it seems that Pope Francis is pleasing both sides by doing this?

RACHEL ZOLL: That’s how people are reading it, it’s kind of like balancing the ticket. There’s a left-right divide in the church and it is very wide. And by bringing these two men together for canonization at the same time, he’s saying a lot of different things. He’s saying one isn’t–there not at odds with each other, that they’re more on a continuum of how they led the church and also, that there’s room for everybody. This is a big message of his pontificate, that he wants all people of different views to be welcome in the church.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So backing up just a second, what does it take to become a saint?

RACHEL ZOLL: There’s a process that the church goes through that’s incredibly lengthy and very intensive. First, someone looks through your entire life, your writings and decides whether or not you had exhibited “heroic virtue,” that’s the phrase that they use. The pope approves that. The next step is beatification, that’s when a miracle is attributed to your intercessions. So if I pray to Pope John Paul II and I was cured of something, then that’s a miracle that the church would have to certify, then you become beatified. And then the final step is canonization; that’s the sainthood. And usually that’s two miracles that have to be approved in order to be canonized, but in this case Pope John Paul II had two miracles certified and attributed to him. But John XXIII only had one and Pope Francis decided to wave the second miracle requirement. And it’s not as unusual as you think — it doesn’t happen a lot, but there’s a lot of debate in the Catholic Church among theologians about whether or not two miracles are required.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So besides the two miracles, there’s usually a waiting period, isn’t there? It’s almost like the NBA or Baseball Hall of Fame where there has to be a certain number of years to pass, but Pope John Paul II did that pass?

RACHEL ZOLL: The way that it happened is that right after he died, there was this incredible outpouring of support for him and the crowds in St. Peter’s Square were shouting or chanting: “Santo Subito,” which means make him a saint immediately. And so when Pope Benedict was elected he decided to wave the five-year waiting period that is usually required after death before you’d even start looking at whether or not someone should be on track to become a saint.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, one pope got an exception for the two miracles, just down to one. And one pope got an exception for the sort of waiting time. And so we’re hearing that there’s going to be several world leaders present, but that this is somewhat different than standard because it’s not a huge three-day affair like it always becomes.

RACHEL ZOLL: That’s right. This is a no-frills papacy and he’s making it a no-frills canonization. And so it’s just going to be the basic ceremony itself in St. Peter’s Square. It’s still enormously festive and something that people around the world will be watching, but it won’t be the three-day extravaganza.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Alright, Rachel Zoll, the religion writer for the Associated Press. Thanks for joining us.

RACHEL ZOLL: Thank you.