Sunday, April 27, 2014

I Papisanti

Today was a good day for the Roman Catholic church:  the rain held off until after the conclusion of the mass celebrating the canonization of two new saints:  Saint John 23rd and Saint John Paul 2nd. I watched the mass on RAI1--the national network's #1 channel was given over entirely to the event, with minimal or no commercial interruptions, for several hours (would that they would do that for some of the major sporting events--a whine for another time).  I am, of course, no believer--never baptized in any religion--but I follow the affairs of the R.C. church as I might any other institution with global impact and significance.  That is to say, with due respect but no reverence, some ironic distance, and with major regard toward any possible contribution to progress toward a better life for most or all of us.

"Papisanti" is the name given by the Italian press for the occasion, meaning Pope/Saints.  There are certainly plenty of them; and it was the sound judgment of Those in Charge to promote these two from recognition of them as "Blessed" (Beato) to "Saint" status.  I would recognize those two, plus the current Pope Francis, as being the pillars of the R.C.'s best effort to remain relevant in the 21st Century.   Two steps forward, one-and-a-half back would be my description of the Church's march toward the present, and through the policies of the three of them, the following characteristics have emerged:

  • An opening toward fellow believers of all kinds, and good relations with other institutions of religion, especially Christian ones (started by Pope John XXIII); 
  • Continued hard line on topics like contraception, abortion, women as priests, celibacy; 
  • Significant efforts to broaden the number of Cardinals (and one step above--selecting the Popes themselves) from beyond Italy, in particular, and Western Europe/North America (starting with Pope John Paul II); 
  • Some tentative efforts to reform the inner workings and financial dealings of the Vatican (started by Pope Francis, after a failed attempt by Pope John Paul II's predecessor, the short-lived--and, in Italy, universally believed to have been poisoned by diabolical Vatican intriguers--John Paul I).  
I would add one more initiative by the previous Pope, Benedict the whatever--probably his only one--which is to allow the Pope to consider retiring before he dies as a drooling invalid.  I hope Pope Francis will consider following that precedent, if the circumstances arise.

Miracles and Sanctification
The Church declares that the saints are, unambiguously, in the Kingdom of Heaven, so the process leading to canonization is one that it is time-tested:  exacting, conservative (in the sense of being slow to accept change), and, as far as I know, irreversible.  The rules dictate one verifiable miracle--evidence of Holy Grace being exercised through these mortal vessels--to become Blessed, and a second to take that next step up to sainthood (though see below).  They have people who go to the source of the alleged miracle and audit its veracity, though first-hand accounts, examination of medical records (most often in modern days the form of the miracle is a recovery from a fatal or debilitation illness attributed to prayer and not medical science);   some account of unearthly light seems to help corroborate the story.

Pope John Paul II (also once known as Cardinal Wojtyla of Cracow) had a couple of these credited and verified; this helps explain his unusually rapid ascension. Neither of them was his recovery from the attempted assassination in the streets of Rome, nor his role in the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the liberation of Eastern Europe, and the end of the (first) Cold War.  His level of contribution to the last group, sometimes referred to as the "annus mirabilis" the miraculous year of 1989, I would call extremely prominent, at the second-highest level, the level of Lech Walesa or Vaclav Havel, just below that of the "miraculous" actions, even if he did not know it at the time, of Mikhail Gorbachev, and significantly above the contributions of the American heroes, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

As for Pope John XXIII, his canonization was carefully considered and approved, despite apparently having only one miracle officially on his record.  (There were several pages of "really good stuff" that accompanied the final document and provided sufficient justification for his final approval.)  Clearly he presents a great example as a humble individual (yes, Italian!) who rose through his devotion to wear "The Shoes of the Fisherman" (remember Anthony Quinn in the movie role, based at least a little, on the career of Cardinal Roncalli, the future John XXIII?), and then, moreover, to accomplish something significant once he got there. The whole point of the saint thing in the Roman Catholic theology is that it is possible for a devout believer to get to Heaven, that there are some well-documented examples, and that these are "people like you and me, only a little different", and that those differences are their degree of devotion and the holy Light that shone down ultimately upon them.

Next up--one could bet upon it, though there is enough doubt to make it a bettable proposition, let alone when it might happen--will be a final determination of the title of saint for Mother Theresa.  She has been beatified, but, like John XXIII, she has only one official miracle to her name (but countless other amazing accomplishments).  The fact that she is not a Pope makes it a little harder, but she was a good Roman Catholic (of Albanian origin), despite many tribulations in her personal belief, and always publicly toed the official line on the controversial stuff.  Because I think the logical next step would be a saint who was not a Pope, nor ever a member of the Vatican hierarchy (there is more than one route to Heaven!), I think that she will make it in, though there are some who criticize the way her ministry used its funds:  I find it hard to believe the Vatican will let that get in the way, if the politics are right.

Finally, I should comment on the recent visit to the Vatican of the new Ukrainian P.M.  I don't know his religion, but I did some investigation and found these to be the percentage of Ukrainians who self-identified their religion as:
Ukrainian Orthodox - Moscow Patriarchate - 25.9%
Ukrainian Orthodox - Kiev Patriarchate - 31.1%
Ukrainian Greek Catholic - 8.5%
Roman Catholic - 1.1%
Armenian Catholic - 1.7%
Protestant - 1.0%
Muslim - 0.2%
No affiliation/non-religious/other/No Answer - 40.8%
(Ukrainian Sociological Service, 2011)

A couple of comments, then I will conclude:  clearly the Orthodox religion is predominant, but with a split between those who acknowledge the Russian supremacy (it was re-established by Stalin, and has a formal position more than a practical one) and those who prefer the homegrown variety.  Still, there is some analogue between the religious split and the linguistic/cultural/political one.  The Greek Catholic and Armenian Catholic are not the Greek Orthodox; the Roman Catholics are reported to be mostly near the Polish border.  And, last, somehow the percentages add up to about 110%, so there may be as much confusion about this in their minds as there is in mine.

Anyway, I would conclude that the Ukrainian P.M.'s visit to the Vatican would probably be in the ecumenical spirit, and looking for Papal endorsement of peace, rather than as a devotee of the R.C.  looking for blessing for some kind of holy war.  One would hope.

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