Fr. John O’Malley, S.J., and Gerard Mannion, the amaturo professor in Catholic Studies, discussed the upcoming canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, and the former popes’ impact on the Catholic Church in Riggs Library on Wednesday. Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., moderated the event, titled “Continuity and Change in the Modern Papacy.”
Although popes are commonly canonized, or declared as saints by the Catholic Church, O’Malley characterized this trend as detrimental for the church. Mannion agreed, saying that canonization has become a habit that the church must break.
“It’s harder to fall out of that habit than it is to fall into it. It’s a little bit like on a university campus when you start naming buildings after previous administrators. The habit gets established and it goes on and on and then it becomes expected,” Mannion said. “One has to ask what is the real purpose behind canonization, and what is it saying about the church’s process of sainthood, of having models of heroic virtue.”
Both speakers noted that Pope John XXIII will be remembered for his convening of the Second Vatican Council, which examined relations between the church and the modern world and renewed Catholic doctrines in accordance with a modern perspective.
“This was a big event in the history of the Catholic Church and world history,” O’Malley said, “No doubt about it that John XXIII’s convoking of the council was a landmark, for better or for worse, however you want to look at it, it was absolutely a landmark for the Catholic Church.”
This council’s influence helps to explain the direction that the church has taken under Pope Francis, according to O’Malley.
“Whereas I really feel that with Paul VI, and John Paul II and Benedict XVI, they were still fighting the battles of the council. They were still too involved in the council,” O’Malley said. “Francis is not, it’s a given. These great movements of the council, he just takes it as the air he breathes.”
A strong sense of interfaith dialogue also ran as a common thread through the tenures of the two popes. John XXIII’s history made dialogue especially meaningful for him during his time in the military.
“Both of them were passionate about the importance of interfaith dialogue,” Mannion said.”[John XXIII] was posted to Turkey, Eastern Europe. He spent time there. He had to live dialogue. During the Second World War he was the go-between for the many sides in Istanbul.”
A sense of openness and an embracing of the world in its reality was also an important aspect of John XXIII’s pontificate, according to O’Malley.
“What he learned by experience was the goodness of people across confessional divides, and across religious faith divides and an optimism and a willingness and to take reality as it is and cooperate with it instead of the alienation of the church from the modern world that had taken place in the 19th century,” O’Malley said.
An attendee, Michelle Dailey (COL ’14), appreciated the timing of the discussion.
“I thought it was really cool that Georgetown decided to do this event in light of the canonization because I think it is really an important moment. And so I think it was really interesting that we got some of our biggest and brightest names out here,” Dailey said.
Dailey said that she sees the trend of increasing pope canonization as inspirational rather than troubling as it attests to each of our abilities to succeed spiritually.
“At the same time, part of me thinks it’s almost maybe a good thing in the sense that it does remind people that, for example, people can be good and holy people even if they aren’t perfect, whereas I think that when you submitted less people to the sainthood that set the expectation really high,” Dailey said.
Georgetown will host a musical celebration of the canonization of the two popes next week with a concert at DAR Constitution Hall in conjunction with Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Washington Archdiocese and the Embassies of Italy, Argentina and Poland.