A Look 10 Years Back: 2 Popes Beatified on This Day

Blesseds Pius IX and John XXIII Linked in History

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By Carmen Elena Villa

ROME, SEPT. 3, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Although separated by almost a century, Popes Pius IX and John XXIII share many coincidences: They both initiated ecumenical councils (First and Second Vatican Councils), they both faced complex events on the world scene, and both were beatified by Pope John Paul II on Sept. 3, 2000, that is, 10 years ago today.

Pius IX's was the longest pontificate in history. Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti (born in Senigallia, Italy, on May 13, 1792,) held the Chair of Peter for almost 32 years: from 1846 to 1878.

One of his major contributions to Church history was the 1854 proclamation of the dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception.

Pius IX was the Pope who convoked Vatican I (1869-1870), where papal infallibility was defined. 

Consecrated life was also one of Pius IX's hallmarks: he canonically approved 160 religious orders, many of them women's and missionary congregations.

"His lengthy pontificate was not at all easy and he had much to suffer in fulfilling his mission of service to the Gospel," John Paul II would say at his beatification in 2000. "He was much loved, but also hated and slandered.

"However, it was precisely in these conflicts that the light of his virtues shone most brightly."

Remarkable goodness

Pope John XXIII looked up to Pius IX, undoubtedly never imagining that they would share their beatification day.

During a spiritual retreat in 1959, John XXIII wrote in his diary: "I always think of Pius IX of holy and glorious memory, and by imitating him in his sacrifices, I would like to be worthy to celebrate his canonization."

Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (1881-1963) was almost 77 when he was elected to the See of Peter, and due to this rather advanced age, it was expected that he would be a "transitional pope."

This was not the case. He convoked the most important ecclesial event of the 20th century: Vatican II.

His one-time secretary, 94-year-old Archbishop Loris Capovilla of Loreto, Italy, recalled for L'Osservatore Romano the day the council was called. 

"The Pope got up at dawn, directing his morning prayer with the Angelus," he said. "[...] In the car, as he was going to St. Paul's Outside the Walls, he said few words.

"He presided over the Mass celebrated by the abbot and then gave the homily. The rite was prolonged more than planned and the Pope crossed the threshold of the Chapter Room of the Benedictine monastery shortly after midday: the hour when the embargo of the proclamation ended.

"Thus, the media reported the news of the council before the Pontiff had communicated it to the cardinals."

John Paul II would describe his predecessor as the "Pope who impressed the world with the friendliness of his manner which radiated the remarkable goodness of his soul."

"Everyone remembers the image of Pope John's smiling face and two outstretched arms embracing the whole world," the Polish Pontiff continued. "How many people were won over by his simplicity of heart, combined with a broad experience of people and things! The breath of newness he brought certainly did not concern doctrine, but rather the way to explain it; his style of speaking and acting was new, as was his friendly approach to ordinary people and to the powerful of the world."

Divine design

John Paul II would also reflect: "By divine design their beatification links these two Popes who lived in very different historical contexts but, beyond appearances, share many human and spiritual similarities."

In his homily, the Polish Pontiff considered those to be beatified: People with distinct features and their own particular mission, but "linked by a longing for holiness." 

"It is precisely their holiness that we recognize today," he said,  "holiness that is a profound and transforming relationship with God, built up and lived in the daily effort to fulfill his will."