POPE John Paul was headed for canonization to my mind when upon seeing him pass by my station in Roxas Boulevard that glorious afternoon in 1981, the press covering the affair about me burst into tears of joy. So did I. Perhaps it was his appearance and aura of saintliness—almost messianic, that touched us all.
A decade later as Philippine ambassador to Rome, I was able to secure an audience with the Supreme pontiff. As he approached me, as I stood beside my fellow chiefs of mission lined up in one side of the room, he chanted impishly, Cory! Cory! Cory! As I genuflected and kissed the papal ring he whispered,” I always pray for the Philippines.” That meeting coming soon after the Edsa revolution, certainly our finest moment, did not escape the papal memory.
I had not met the other saint, Pope John the 23rd. It would seem that his reputation had somewhat been eclipsed by a more contemporary and popular one whose views resonated with the younger generation. Needless to say the two Popes can be considered as the two greatest popes of the century.
The earlier Pope John XXIII, was noted for Vatican 2, the great ecumenical council which he convoked after the first Vatican council almost a century earlier. Pope John Paul on the other hand was remembered and credited for the downfall of communism in Europe. But more than these, the two Pope-Saints greatest contribution was the revival of the flagging spirit of the postwar Catholic Church and retrofitting the papacy to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century and the third millennium by returning the Church to its evangelical roots.
The Second Vatican Council was bold enough to meet the challenges of modern times by venturing into a thorough revision of the liturgy, acceptance of ecumenism, reminding the faithful of the unique and vital role and function of the laity, and the adoption of a new approach to the world without surrendering to the world that came out of years of fratricidal world wars and was now experiencing revolutionary changes in social mores.
St John Paul built on the heavy lifting done by Pope John XXIII and the Church fathers of Vatican 2 of which he was a prominent member, so that it is safe to say that both Pope-Saints complemented each other’s work in the risorgimiento.
Lest we forget the work of the latter saint in restoring democracy in this country and in his own—St. John Paul when he visited in 1981 did not mince words in exhorting Marcos to restore freedom in this country. This was relayed to me by the Papal Nuncio at the time when I met him in Rome later. St. John Paul, defying the advice of Vatican Curia officials to play ball with Marcos, supported Cardinal Sin who was on the warpath against the dictator. As the Nuncio put it, he placed the Philippine situation at par with that in his own homeland in Poland and was therefore determined to give a boost to the efforts of the local church to restore freedom in the country.
In the words of his biographer George Weigel “if the Church of the future knows John Paul 2 as ‘John Paul the Great, it will be for this reason: at another point of peril, a heroic figure was called from the Church to meet the Barbarian threat and propose an alternative….in the case of John Paul II, the Barbarians threatening civilization has been a set of ideas whose consequences include barbarous politics and defective humanisms, that in the name of humanity and its destiny, create new tyrannies and compound human suffering,”
Perhaps the author had in mind not only communism but unfettered free enterprise leading to exclusive development and the anti-life and contraceptive mentality that promotes a culture of death that besets nations and has killed no less than 1.7 billion babies in the last 40 years.