Beatification will stir memories of JPII

I was in St. Peter’s Square when Pope John Paul II died in 2005 and very little time went by before people started talking about his inevitable canonization.

It was a given that this pope — whom so many called John Paul the Great — would be on the fast-track to beatification. So here we are, six years later, and JPII will be beatified on Sunday.

What is there to say about JPII? It’s still kind of hard to believe that he’s gone, because he was around for so long. His pivotal role in Catholic history, in world history, is clear.

Archbishop Dolan writes about seeing him “up close,” when Dolan was rector of the North American College in Rome from 1994 to 2001. He writes:

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It’s said you just sort of know when you’re in the presence of sanctity. You don’t need much proof or clinical verification; nope — our “gut,” our hearts, our souls just sense it.

Holy Mother Church doesn’t stop here, of course, and I’m glad she doesn’t. She requires some “proofs,” such as widespread public veneration, miracles and a scrupulous study of the holy one’s life. I suppose she has been burned enough to know you always can’t trust your “gut.”

In the case of Blessed Pope John Paul II, we’ve got both.

My heart, soul and (rather considerable) “gut” can testify, from the vantage point of a box seat for at least seven years of his remarkable pontificate, that this was a man of remarkable, extraordinary, heroic sanctity.

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Many still wonder about how active John Paul was during the final years of his pontificate, when his illnesses were more evident by the day, and whether he did enough to curtail and respond to sexual abuse. His steadfast support of Marcial Maciel, the since-disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ, is a blight on his record, the size of which is in the eye of the beholder.

But few people know about the Maciel scandal. When most people see images of JPII on TV this weekend, they’ll think of his worldwide travels and his incredible ability to…inspire.

I always think of running into Father Benedict Groeschel in Rome in 2001, when we were there for the consistory where Cardinal Egan got his red hat.

Groeschel said to me:

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I was saying to myself this morning in St. Peter’s Square, `Who is the holiest person here right now?’ and I figured it was probably some dear old lady in the crowd, someone who is close to God. Then I was looking at the pope up on his chair. I thought of how hard he works and of his complete service to all who want him. And I thought that he just might be the holiest person. It doesn’t always work out that way, but in his case, it does.”

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(AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)