Canonization of Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II

Seb Koh


Written by Dr. Eusebio Koh

Past Grand Knight: Santo Nino Council #12415

May 4, 2014

On April 27, 2014, the Divine Mercy Sunday, two recent but most deserving popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, were canonized by Pope Francis in front of almost a million enthusiastic spectators which included retired Pope Benedict XVI and numerous dignitaries from around the world.  In his homily during mass at St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis praised the new saints as “men of courage and mercy who worked with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the church in keeping the features brought to her over the centuries.”

This was a most astonishing occasion not merely because two popes were canonized in the presence of two other popes but because of the haste and urgency to get the canonization done. Sainthood has often taken decades if not centuries to achieve partly because of the difficulty to confirm the basic requirement of two attributed miracles.

In St. John XXIII’s case, the second miracle was waived in light of his tremendous accomplishment of the Vatican II.  In St John Paul II’s case, the waiting period after a candidate’s demise was waived and the process of canonization was expedited.

Pope Francis praised St. John XXIII for “his openness to the Holy Spirit” and allowing himself to be led as a “pastor, servant-leader” in this task.

Vatican II opened the Church to modern times and also reached back to biblical times by stressing the central role of the Sacred Scripture in our devotion.  Bible study continues to be part of the activities of priest and parishioners.

St. John XXIII, through the Second Vatican Council, has modernized our Church and brought it closer to us.  We feel part and parcel of the Church.  With the priest facing us and speaking our vernacular, we feel we belong to the same family.  Our Church is a church of love and respect and is quite inclusive.  So much so that we do not hesitate to serve in the Eucharist and the liturgy in any way we can.

It is believed that Pope John XXIII saved the world from nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.  With the United States under President John F. Kennedy ready to blockade the Soviet Union from bringing nuclear missiles to Cuba, the pope made an impassioned plea over the Vatican Radio:  “We beg all rulers not to be deaf to the cry of humanity.”  This allowed Nikita Krushchev to back down and call back the Soviet fleet without disgrace. For his efforts and call for world peace, Time magazine named Pope John XXIII as “Man of the Year.”

Pope Francis praised and characterized St. John Paul II as “the pope of the family” and invoked the guidance of the new saints in the upcoming synods of the bishops on the family in October this year and in 2015.

Pope John Paul II had one of the longer and more successful papacy (1978-2005).  He had involved himself in international affairs and had probably travelled the most to other countries.  He went further than Pope John XXIII in bridging the gaps between the church and the other faiths, namely Judaism, the Church of England, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Protestant Churches and even the Dalai Lama.  It is believed that he played a behind-the-scene part in bringing down communism. In 2004, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush for his “principled stand for peace and freedom”.

The choice of holding the canonization on Divine Mercy Sunday was meaningful especially for St John Paul II who instituted the observance in the Catholic universal calendar.  In the year 2000 at the Mass for the canonization of St. Faustina Kowalska, he proclaimed the second Sunday after Easter as the Divine Mercy Sunday.  St. Faustina, coming from a poor Polish family, was a sister of the Congregation of Sisters of our Lady of Mercy.  She claimed to have been visited by Jesus.  By some coincidence, Pope John Paul II passed away in 2005 on the vigil of the Feast of Divine Mercy.  As well, he was beatified in 2011 on Divine Mercy Sunday.

We have two great Church leaders in Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II and they richly deserved to be canonized.



Vatican II after 50 Years

Written by Dr. Eusebio Koh

Originally Published in the Filipino Journal:   December 5, 2012, Volume 26, Number 22


The year 1962, fifty years ago, was a very memorable year. In April of 1961, the United States with Cuban rebels launched the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba with the intention to rid the North American continent of the presence of communism. The USSR under Nikita Kruschev decided to arm Cuba with nuclear missiles to prevent future invasions. Those missiles could hit Washington D. C. in fifteen minutes if launched. The missiles were discovered by American U2 aircrafts in October, 1962 which led to the thirteen-day Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States under President John F. Kennedy was prepared to confront and block Russian ships from reaching Cuba. Fortunately, diplomacy won out and the tension was defused. That was probably the closest we came to nuclear war.

But the year 1962 was memorable for a most pleasant event – an event that enriches the world, specifically the world of the Catholics which today number over a billion. The Second Vatican Council (informally called Vatican II) is one important happening in the Catholic Church. It opened up the Church to the modern world. The council, a bright idea of Blessed Pope John XXIII, convened on 11 October 1962 and closed under Pope Paul VI on 8 December 1965. Pope John passed away in June, 1963 and Pope Paul reopened the council upon his election to the papacy. The popes who succeeded Pope John, namely Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II and the present Pope Benedict XVI were participants in the Vatican II.

In talks before the Council actually met, Pope John had said that we needed to open the windows and the doors of the Church to take in some fresh air. He was talking about ecumenism, renewal, reform and getting lay involvement in the liturgy and other aspects of the Church. He invited the Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Churches to send observers to the Council and they accepted. There were also lay and women observers during the council meetings. Personally, I think it was Pope John who was the fresh air for through the Vatican II he brought the people closer to the Church and to the Lord Jesus Christ.

There were numerous documents approved by Council. A Synod of Bishops was established to preserve a close cooperation of the bishops with the Pope. There were decrees on religious freedom, decrees on missionary activity, on the life of persons in religious orders, education for the priests, and the role of the laity. One important document stated that the Jews of today are no more responsible for the death of Christ than Christians. A most accommodating document was on the dogmatic constitution on the Church. While claiming to be the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” Church of Christ, the document acknowledged that “many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines.”

Perhaps the most notable with immediate effects on individual Catholics was the decree to allow the celebration of the Mass in vernacular languages with greater participation of lay persons in the liturgy and the celebrant facing the congregation. Latin of course was not abolished as the liturgical language of the Roman Rite and is still the basis of translations as in the case of the new Roman Missal. Here and elsewhere, traditionalists can still attend Latin Masses.

Vatican II opened the Church to modern times and also reached back to biblical times by stressing the central role of the Sacred Scripture in our devotion. Bible study continues to be part of the activities of priest and parishioners.

For senior citizens like me, Vatican II has made changes in what and how the Church has become to us:

1. The Church is no longer some unapproachable Kingdom of God. We are part and parcel of the Church; we are the Church.

2. The Church has become less absolute in its relationship to non-Catholics and even non-Christians allowing that there are religious truths and aspirations outside the Church.

3. The Church is now understandable in its mission with the priest facing us and speaking our vernacular language.

4. The Church has invited us to be involved in the liturgy and the Eucharist. It has given value to us as thinking participants and listened to our opinions considering the increase of educated Catholics with advanced degrees in the arts (including theology) and sciences.

5. The Church has become a church of love, not of fear and coercion. It has given us freedom to act according to our clear conscience.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI had declared the period from October 2012 to the end of November 2013 a “Year of Faith” and told parishes and religious institutions to find ways to celebrate and reaffirm the Creed. Either the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed is a statement of the Christian belief.


Is Pope Francis a Breath of Fresh Air?

When the white smoke came out of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican on March 13, 2013 and a cardinal came out to announce “Habemus papam”, there was a wild cry of elation and relief at the St. Peter’s Cathedral Square and around the Catholic world watching the event on TV.  We have a Pope he said. Shortly after that, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina was introduced as the new pope who would be named Pope Francis.  People wondered “Who is he?”

He turned out to be a first in various categories: first from the Americas, first Jesuit to be pope, first to be named Francis which he chose in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, a man who dedicated his life to simplicity and poverty.

Almost a year after his election, Pope Francis is proving to be a most popular Pope. He has maintained his dedication to the poor.  When he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he gave up his palace and limousine for a small apartment and public transportation so he could visit the slums.  In the same way, he did not stay at the official residence of the Pope, the Apostolic Palace.  He lives at the Vatican guest house and eats with the other priests at their residence, Domus Sanctae Marthae, the easier perhaps for him to visit the poor.

By seeking out the poor and the marginalized, Pope Francis is following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ who came not for the saved but for the sinners.  An early step Pope Francis did was to remove the bonuses for Vatican employees and put the funds towards helping the poor.

Another significant early move he made was to appoint an advisory board of eight cardinals from all the continents except Antarctica.  Recently, Pope Francis brought in new personnel changes that seem to continue his desire to broaden and open up a traditionally reclusive Vatican.  On January 15, he replaced four of the five cardinals appointed to govern the Vatican Bank, an entity that has been suspected of money-laundering.  Gone was the former secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, replaced by the new secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.  The other three new ones are Cardinals Santos Abril y Castillo, Christoph Schonborn and Thomas Collins, the last two having been critical of bank operations.  The one who remains is Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Commission of Inter-religious Dialogue.

We are hopeful and prayerful that Pope Francis solves the many problems confronting the Church such as the issues of pedophile priests, Vatican leaks, women priesthood and the apparent control of women religious leadership.  An important move he can make is to reinstitute seventy-five-year old Fr. Roy Bourgeois to the priesthood and to the Maryknoll Order of Fathers and Brothers. Father Roy, you will recall, was excommunicated for celebrating mass and giving the homily at the ordination of a Janice Sevre-Duszynska as a woman priest in Lexington, Kentucky in August, 2008.

But don’t hold your breath. Based on his pronouncements as a Cardinal-Archbishop, Pope Francis seems to hold traditionalist views on women priesthood and the role of women in the church.  But things can change as he gets more input from the wider constituency.  For example, when asked for his thoughts on homosexuals, he gave the now popular non-papal reply, “Who am I to judge?”  Ten years ago, he probably would have launched into a homily on the sanctity of the holy marriage between a man and a woman.

Sooner or later, the Catholic Church will have to face the problem of a drastically dwindling number of celibate male priests.  One possible solution is to ordain married men.  (Earlier, married men may be ordained to priesthood.  Until the twelfth century, priests, bishops and 39 popes including the first Pope, St. Peter were married.  Movements for celibacy started because of inheritance problems and celibacy was imposed following the Second Lateran Council in 1139.  Not quite in accord with the Lord!) But more than this practical aspect is the implicit arrogance of the unjust claim that only a man can fathom and convey the divinity of God.

Is Pope Francis a breath of fresh air? Indeed, he is.  His willingness to listen and to hobnob with the lowly and aggrieved tends to open up a close and strictly orthodox church.  He said that the church had concerned itself with small-minded rules and was so prone to condemn those who break them.  He doesn’t believe that the church’s pastoral ministry should be obsessed with the transmission of disjointed doctrines to be imposed insistently.  He wants a new balance to bring forth “the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel”.  And he is showing his love by his actions.

Written by Dr. Eusebio Koh

Past Grand Knight: Santo Nino Council #12415

Filipino Journal: Columnist

Jan. 20 – Feb. 05, 2014 | Volume 28, Number 02