Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Maryland, was one of the many prelates representing the United States at Sunday’s Mass, having led a delegation of some 40 people to the event.
Speaking with ZENIT ahead of the canonization, Archbishop Lori shared the impression these two new saints made upon him while they were alive, as well as the impact they had on the Catholic Church in America:
ZENIT: What were you anticipating when you came to Rome for these canonizations?
Archbishop Lori: It just seems to me to be a moment when we focus on the sanctity of two popes of recent memory – of John XXIII and John Paul II – both of whom played pivotal roles in the Second Vatican Council, both of whom dedicated their lives to bringing the Gospel out into the world, perhaps in different ways but nonetheless the same mission: perhaps different styles, but the same teaching.
I think this is a moment for the whole Church to focus anew, to focus afresh, on our God-given mission of evangelization, and to absorb the life, the example, and the teaching of these two pontiffs as we seek to continue the New Evangelization with greater vigor.
ZENIT: What has been the legacy of John XXIII and John Paul II in the United States, in particularly with regard to vocations and the growth of the Church?
Archbishop Lori: Beginning with Pope John XXIII: I was a child when he was elected. I knew, just as a child, what a kind, joyful man he was. I will say that it affected my own vocation because I entered the seminary as a high school student. Seeing the life, the joy, of Pope John XXIII made a difference in my life.
I think, also, that John XXIII, in his convoking of the Second Vatican Council, of course made a tremendous difference in the life of Catholics. I remember, again as a young person, the discussions that took place in my home, the friends of my mother and father, about what the Second Vatican Council could possibly mean. I think he caused them to re-engage their faith by calling the council.
In terms of John Paul II, I have vivid memories. I was a young priest when he was elected to the chair of Peter. A tremendous difference in the life of millions and millions of people. Where [do I] begin? His defense of the transcendent dignity of the human person, on the world stage; writing an encyclical that lays out the program of his papacy, Redentor Hominis; his role in the fall of communism; his stress on the New Evangelization; his outreach to young people.
There’s a whole generation of John Paul II priests; his focus on the strengthening of priestly formation; his renewal of moral theology.
He so thoroughly brought the teaching of the Second Vatican Council to bear. He interpreted it authoritatively. But more than that, I think he helped us to see what it really meant in our lives as Christians. Above all, in his own life and example, and in canonizing so many saints himself, he portrayed for us the universal call for holiness really like no other pope in history.
ZENIT: As we have been delving into the lives of these saints, what can we learn about what it means to be a saint?
Archbishop Lori: Beginning with John XXIII, one of the great hallmarks of his spirituality is humility. As you read Journal of a Soul, as you read things he said of himself, he never took himself too seriously. He regarded himself as a humble man of humble origins. He never lost the sense of humor about himself.
But, in the midst of it, he pursued the spiritual life with great seriousness and great integrity. The fruit of that was a joy evident to all the world. So from John XXIII, I think we learn this very beautiful humility and joy.
Pope John Paul II: I remember participating many times in the morning Mass, and we would file in after he had been in chapel at least an hour – Lord knows how long, really – and he would truly be absorbed in mystical prayer. You would think of Our Lord praying to His heavenly Father.
Here was a man who was gifted in every way, as an actor, as a writer, as speaker, as a man of languages, as a philosopher. But, it seemed to me that everything that Pope John Paul II did and said passed the way of contemplation, passed through the prism of mystical prayer. When he spoke about Christ revealing us to ourselves, when he spoke about the transcendent dignity of the human person, or about marriage and family, or about what it meant to be a priest, all of this filtered through his life of prayer. What a great example he was! And anyone who thought they were too busy to pray, he has exploded magnificently.