A Tale of Two Saints
The Church recognizes “heroic virtue” in two of its former popes.

John Paul II (left) and Pope John XXIII


LOPEZ: Is there anything about John XXIII you wish people realized?

WEIGEL: I wish we could get beyond the stereotypes here. Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli was steeped in quite conventional Catholic piety, as is clear from his spiritual diary, Journal of a Soul. What made him the bold leader he eventually became as Pope John XXIII were his lifelong study of history — which taught him that the Church must adapt its presentation of perennial truths to the demands of a given cultural moment, so that the truth can be heard and engaged — and his life outside what I would call the “Catholic bubble.” He spent decades as a Vatican diplomatic representative in Orthodox and Islamic countries. He was a Holocaust rescuer. He understood that Catholicism had to rediscover its originating evangelical dynamism if it was going to be the force it should be for the healing of the world. 

LOPEZ: Is it right to say one is a right-wing and one is a left-wing pope? 

WEIGEL: No, it’s quite ridiculous to say that. Which doesn’t mean it won’t be said, alas.

LOPEZ: Is this some sort of reset in the life of the Church?

WEIGEL: If by “this” you mean the canonization doubleheader, it’s the best kind of reset: a reminder that the Church is, at the bottom of the bottom line, in the business of facilitating holiness, which comes through friendship with Jesus Christ.

LOPEZ: Is there an approach to foreign policy and human freedom and flourishing that is consistent and important about the two? 

WEIGEL: Both men understood that, at the root of the sorrows of the 20th century, there was a profound anthropological crisis — a crisis in the very idea of the human person. Roncalli understood this experientially and historically, and responded to it in a deeply personal way that exuded pastoral charity. Wojtyla got it experientially, analyzed it philosophically, and put the Christian view of the inalienable dignity of the human person at the center of his teaching and witness.

LOPEZ: What’s Divine Mercy Sunday and what’s significant about it as the doubleheader date? What does it say about Francis? 

WEIGEL: “Easter,” as Catholics understand it liturgically, lasts eight days: every day of Easter week is Easter, and so is the Octave of Easter, the Second Sunday of Easter, which John Paul II designated as Divine Mercy Sunday — the day the Church celebrates the capacity of the divine compassion to heal the most broken of lives. That is what the Resurrection of Jesus confirms. And it’s entirely appropriate that two popes through whom the world “saw” divine compassion and pastoral charity in an exceptional way should be canonized on that day. Pope Francis understands this, and that’s why the doubleheader is what it is and when it is.

LOPEZ: With Elizabeth Lev and your son, Stephen, you recently wrote a book called Roman Pilgrimage on the station churches of Rome. Are there any spots you will not miss when in Rome?

WEIGEL: I’ve got to get back to Sts. Cosmas and Damian and St. Praxedes.

LOPEZ: Christians are still celebrating Easter. How is Easter relevant in the world today with all its challenges and possibilities? 

WEIGEL: Easter tells Christians that the end of the world’s story has been made manifest in the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and his being constituted as Lord and Savior. That changes everything. So, despite the awfulness that we too often see around us, Christians know through Easter that God’s creative and redeeming purposes are going to be vindicated at the end of the drama of history and creation. So we can get about witnessing to the divine mercy we have experienced in our own lives, through friendship with the Risen Christ, in ways that offer the possibility of that friendship to others. And we can do that knowing that, in the end, it’s all a divine comedy, not a cosmic tragedy.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a director of Catholic Voices USA.


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