Pope John XXIII (25 November 1881 – 3 June 1963) and Pope John Paul II (18 May 1920 – 2 April 2005) reigned as popes of the Roman Catholic Church and the sovereigns of Vatican City (respectively from 1958 to 1963 and 1978 to 2005). Their canonizations were held on 27 April 2014.
The decision to canonize was made official by Pope Francis on 5 July 2013 following the recognition of a miracle attributed to the intercession of John Paul II, while John XXIII was canonized for his merits of opening the Second Vatican Council. The date of the canonization was assigned on 30 September 2013.
The Canonization Mass was celebrated by Pope Francis (with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI concelebrating), on Sunday 27 April 2014 (Divine Mercy Sunday), in St. Peter’s Square (Pope John Paul had died on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005). About 150 Cardinals and 700 bishops concelebrated the Mass, and at least 500,000 people attended the mass with an estimated 300,000 others watching from video screens placed around Rome.
Mark Kinzer writes in his recent book Searching Her Own Mystery: Nostra Aetate, the Jewish People, and the Identity of the Church (p1,2,6)
“On April 27, 2014 the Catholic Church officially recognized Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II as saints. Media reports focused on the appeal these two figures held for rival segments of the Church—John XXIII inspired progressives, while John Paul II earned the devotion of traditionalists.
Little attention was given to the revolution in Catholic teaching and sensibility that these two Popes jointly accomplished—John XXIII as initiator, John Paul II as interpreter, emblematic personality, and implementer.
Nostra Aetate transformed the Catholic view of the Jewish people and the Jewish religious tradition. Asserting that the Church discovers her link to the “stock of Abraham” when “searching her own mystery,” this document intimated that the mystery of Israel is inseparable from the mystery of the Church. As interlocking mysteries, each community requires the other in order to understand itself.
Karol Cardinal Wojtyla was elected pope thirteen years after the adoption of Nostra Aetate. The document’s teaching concerning the Jewish people had profound personal meaning for this son of Poland. He had grown up in the company of Jews, and had witnessed the tragedy of the Holocaust firsthand. The new pope behaved as though Nostra Aetate imposed upon him a sacred obligation to explore its significance theologically and embody its truth in concrete deeds and relationships. With iconic acts such as his visit to the Rome Synagogue in 1986 and his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 2000, and in many public addresses dealing with the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people, this pope made the fourth chapter of Nostra Aetate a tangible and living reality.”
In his visit to the Rome Synagogue in 1986, the Pope underlined this point by way of another contrast.
We are all aware that, among the riches of this paragraph number 4 of Nostra Aetate, three points are especially relevant. . . . The first is that the Church of Christ discovers her “bond” with Judaism by “searching into her own mystery.” The Jewish religion is not “extrinsic” to us, but in a certain way is “intrinsic” to our own religion. With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain sense, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.”
Kinzer’s important book goes on explores the implications of the work of these two Popes, and the “Israel-Christology” and “Israel-Ecclesiology” which a post-supersessionist reading of scripture, and a renewed understanding of the relationship between the Church and Israel, makes available. This brings into focus the significance of Jewish believers in Yeshua both within the established Christian traditions, within the modern Messianic movement, and within the synagagogue.
Reflection: These recent theological developments have yet to be outworked in their ecclesiological and ecumenical forms, but for Messianic Jews this is a challenging and exciting time. Were it not for the radical changes in Catholic teaching on the Jews and Judaism, a renewed understanding of the ongoing purposes of God with his people Israel, and the need to re-appraise Catholic-Jewish relations in the light of the Holocaust, the Church’s previous ‘teaching of contempt’, and the emergence of the modern State of Israel, we would still be stuck in the dark ages of prejudice, alienation from one another’s communities, and mutual suspicion.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for the work of these two popes, and the theological legacy they leave Jews, Christians and Messianic Jews to discover and outwork. Give us the courage of faith, the minds and hearts to pursue your truth, and the ability to express the love of Yeshua to all. In your name we pray. Amen.