Cardinals and bishops of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints reportedly voted in favor of the late Pope John Paul II having lived a life of heroic virtue, according to some Italian press reports.
They report that members of the congregation voted unanimously Nov. 16 to recommend that Pope Benedict XVI formally recognize that Pope John Paul II heroically lived the Christian virtues.
The Vatican would not deny or confirm the reports. The process is being carried out under strict secrecy, and officials are refusing to discuss any aspect of the cause for canonization.
But if true, Pope Benedict may sign a decree recognizing the heroic virtue of his predecessor before the end of the year (he generally signs a dozen or more decrees three times a year: in April, June or July, and in December). John Paul II would then be declared venerable, the penultimate step to beatification.
The congregation’s members meet regularly to study a “positio” (documents pertaining to the causes of proposed saints) and have been examining John Paul II’s since the summer. When the cardinals and bishops are satisfied that the “positio” is complete and demonstrates that the candidate for sainthood lived an extraordinarily holy life, they recommend the pope sign the first decree declaring him venerable.
But to be beatified, a second decree is needed to confirm a miracle attributed to the candidate’s intercession. It follows three phases of approval by teams of doctors, theologians and the members of the congregation.
Many alleged miracles have been reported, but the promoter of John Paul II’s cause, Msgr. Slawomir Oder, has proposed the healing of a French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, who was allegedly cured of Parkinson’s disease — the same disease that afflicted the late Pope.
Some have speculated that official approval of the miracle may happen soon, leaving the possibility of John Paul being beatified as early as next year, possibly on the fifth anniversary of his death.
Informed Italian Vatican watcher Andrea Tornielli contended the ceremony will “probably happen either in May or October next year,” but added it is “premature” to give a more exact date.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican secretary of state, recently ruled out any beatification before the spring. Others speculate that any miracle is unlikely to be approved until next fall at the earliest.
At the moment, much hinges on the Holy Father issuing the first decree, and he may choose to delay signing it for various reasons.
Two years ago, the same group of cardinals and bishops unanimously approved the cause of Pope Pius XII, but Pope Benedict XVI has still not promulgated the decree on the heroic virtues of Pope Pacelli, as he is reportedly waiting for the Vatican archives on Pius’ pontificate during the Second World War to be catalogued and opened to the public.
Usually, the Church does not allow the opening of a cause for beatification until five years after the candidate’s death, but as is well known, Pope Benedict waived this rule for John Paul II, citing his predecessor’s worldwide reputation for holiness.
While this has been welcomed, some in the Vatican hope the process becomes more deliberate, and this may also influence the Pope’s decision.
“We still don’t really know all there is to know about him [John Paul II],” one Vatican official told the Register. “If he is beatified too soon, there is a danger of beatifying the personality, not the person.”
Polish bishops have also been urging more caution lately, having previously wished for a hasty beatification.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul’s long-serving private secretary, said on a trip to Argentina at the end of November that “it all depends” on the Pope.
“We Polish bishops do not want to interfere [in the cause],” he told reporters. “We do not want the Pope to rush; he should analyze it properly.”
Meanwhile, as John Paul II’s beatification cause progresses apace, more about his life is being revealed, including testimonies that he would occasionally flagellate himself and sometimes pray continuously for many hours.
According to Sister Tobiana Sobodka, a Polish nun who worked for Pope John Paul in his private Vatican apartments and at his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo near Rome, John Paul II would often put himself through “bodily penance.”
“We would hear it — we were in the next room at Castel Gandolfo,” said Sister Tobiana, a member of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. “You could hear the sound of the blows when he would flagellate himself. He did it when he was still capable of moving on his own.” The testimonies appear in Santo Subito, a new book by Tornielli.
The Church’s tradition of corporal mortification is founded on Christ’s redemptive suffering and the Christian call to emulate him and join him in his passion. Usually, such mortifications take the form of fasting and abstinence, but some Catholics have undertaken greater sacrifices, such as frequent fasting, or using a hairshirt, a discipline (a small, cord whip) or a cilice (a small, light metal chain with little prongs worn around the thigh).
Many who have done so have been the Church’s greatest saints, including Sts. Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas More and Blessed Mother Teresa.
In 1986, in his annual “Letter to Priests,” John Paul wrote: “What one must see in these forms of penance — which, unfortunately, our times are not accustomed to — are the motives: the love of God and the conversion of sinners.”
Some members of Opus Dei use the cilice as a means of corporal mortification, the aim being to resist man’s natural drive toward personal comfort, which can often prevent Christians from answering the call to love God and serve others.
As well as mentioning this corporal discipline, Tornielli’s book also recalls the late Pope’s love of prayer.
“When Karol Wojtyla prayed, he was not distracted by anything,” said Emery Kabongo, a secretary of John Paul. “I remember that when serving in the papal apartments, you were told that when the Holy Father was praying, even if it was something important, you had to wait to tell him because for him prayer came first. God came before everything else, even the world’s problems.”
Arturo Mari, for many years the Pope’s personal photographer, recalled how the Pope would make a point of praying hard for the local people of the countries he visited. “It seemed that he identified with them in their suffering,” Mari said. “I remember in Vilnius, he remained praying on his knees for six hours without stopping.”
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.