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‘Beatification is about holiness, not a reward for being a good pope’

By on Saturday, 30 April 2011

Archbishop Nichols at this year's Easter Vigil in Westminster Cathedral (Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

Archbishop Nichols at this year's Easter Vigil in Westminster Cathedral (Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk)

How was the royal wedding?

I was offered a privileged seat which was a tribute to the relationships and from within the choir therefore I was able to share quite profoundly what was a really solemn moment. I think what struck me were the two points at which the crowd cheered right at the heart of the abbey. It was very remarkable when it happened. The first [instance] was when the two exchanged their promises. So when Catherine said ‘I will’ there was a great cheer. People recognised the solemnity of the promises that were being made. The second was when the Archbishop of Canterbury said ‘So in the sight of God and these people I now declare you man and wife’ and there was a great cheer.

There is popular recognition that marriage is a fresh start. That this from now on was something different and it was a profound change in the life of both those young people. And everybody recognises it. I think that gives lie to the idea that marriage is of little consequence in our society. It clearly is of great consequence in the eyes of people witnessing and taking part in that marriage yesterday.

What does tomorrow mean for you?

Tomorrow, in a way, is a celebration of the same love that William and Catherine promised to each other–yesterday in marriage, today in service of priest, bishop and Pope–but it’s the same well-spring of love that comes from God that we see on both days.

Clearly with John Paul, it’s a recognition of love that found a mature expression. We look back on that and say without doubt this is an exemplary of living the gift of the spirit of love. That is what a beatification means: Here is a model of Christian loving and of what Christian living means for us. I suppose in the heart of John Paul’s witness, I would place the virtue of courage. I think his very first words on election, on coming out on the balcony were, ‘Do not be afraid’.

He showed that courage right through his life as a young man, as an actor, as somebody preparing for priesthood, as a bishop; in conditions of great adversity he showed that courage. He showed the same courage as Pope, a bishop and a Christian. He said ‘Do not be afraid to let Christ into your lives’, into the realm of politics, into the realm of international relations.

In fact it was the cry that was echoed by Pope Benedict when he was inaugurated when he said, ‘By letting Christ into our lives we lose absolutely nothing’. It is that courage that overcomes fear, and certainly in the life of John Paul II, very visibly overcame the fear of illness, incapacity and death. For me, he would be the fearless one.

Do you have any personal memories of John Paul II that stand out for you?

He had a great sense of humour. I remember at one of the meetings of the synod of bishops when I was an assistant secretary or something in the synod hall the cardinals wd be sitting in the front two rows and on the Wednesday session I think a lot of the cardinals assumed that the Pope wouldn’t be present and they were missing. There were empty rows. At the break John Paul stood up and he tapped the microphone. He said: ‘As my old philosophy tutor used to say, I can see the absentees.’

More specifically, what does Pope John Paul II’s beatification mean for England and Wales?

I don’t think anybody who was present for his visit in 1982 will ever forget it. It was quite different to the recent visit of Pope Benedict, because that was a visit that was focused primarily on the Catholic community and the celebration of sacraments. But his trip ran through England Scotland and Wales. It was remarkable for the vigour and the panache with which he made the Catholic life and truth and celebration so present in the heart of our country and the different places that he visited. There was that vigour and style that he had and also his stamina, because it was a remarkable tour de force which he showed in many, many countries, where he could hold huge crowds, time after time after time.

I spent a lot of our visit in the BBC television centre and I know the people who were there were quite astonished, not just by the charismatic presence that he had but by the fact that he could sustain this for nine days. He was very clearly drawing on strength that was virtually unquenchable and that came across as a huge encouragement to people spiritually, especially to young people.

There has been criticism of his legacy, especially on questions of abuse and quite a few people have said that we should wait with the beatification. Do you think he did enough to combat abuse in the Church?

I think beatification about a person’s holiness. It’s not a reward for being a good Pope. It’s not a prize for good management. It’s an acclamation that this person was close to God and in his life and work showed us some of the attributes of God, God’s creativeness and his abundant mercy and I think that is the only context to really reflect profoundly on the moment of beatification.

Another criticism that has been levelled at Pope John Paul II is that he moved away from the renovating spirit of the Second Vatican Council. Do you think that is a fair criticism?

I was just reading in his spiritual testament, which were these very personal notes which he wrote in the last 10 years of life at the end of his annual retreats so they were reflections on his life. There were some very interesting things in one there were quite a powerful couple of sentences in which he reflected on how divine providence saved him from the assassin’s bullet and how from that moment onwards he felt as his life had been given to him afresh or rather it was lived far more closely with the Lord. He had, I think, a very reflective nature that could easily have led him to be a contemplative.

In that same testament he speaks a number of times of the great grace of the Second Vatican Council and what a privilege it was to live through and with that grace. But it is the nature of the Church to take the grace of the council, as John Paul II always spoke of the Second Vatican Council, and live it and explore it and be changed with it. The council is not, as it were, a fixed object that kind of captures neither the present nor the future of the Church but it is a moment of grace and of inspiration out of which the Church must continue to live as it faces a changing world. There is no doubt at all that the world has changed enormously in the years since the Second Vatican Council and having had a Second Vatican Council does not somehow shelter the Church from those changes or having to react or respond to those changes.

  • John Sobieski

    No saint would have convened Assisi, protected Marcial Maciel, admitted topless women at lectors, or rewarded Card. Law with Santa Maria Maggiore. This beatification is an embarrassment and a scandal.

  • AJ

    Yah right! Look who’s talking. All you care about is liturgy…..are you are RadTrad? you guys are single-issue campaigners. That’s it.

    Was JPII flawed? Yup. So was Peter. Oh, so was St Paul. He still did more WORLDWIDE to push evangelism than any Pope I know in history! And he carried on in great personal pain to the end of his life. Heroic virtue? Oh yes. Great deeds? Brought down communism, liberation theology, saw through Revival in Africa and the East… Sounds like more than I have done! Plus travelling around the world seven times trying to win souls, yea, even of those of other faiths, with a Catechism to correct any ‘confusion’ among the faithful. (The confusion, as I say, comes from corrupt, liberal Bishops of the West who constantly undermine the faith.) established Divine Mercy, shelters, food to all that hunger the Word of God and a lot more not enough space in here, Heroic virtue? Oh yes. Great deeds? oh Yes.

    Finally, I do not see that JPII need to apologise to Rad-Trads. Whenever I see their like online I notice they are forever obsessing about liturgy and just, well, complaining. I never see the Rad-Trad evangelistic outreaches, the Rad-Trad soup kitchens, the Rad-Trad medical boats… Oh no. It’s always Latin, liturgy and ‘reverence’ (as if reverence was the only permissible human state sometimes.) JPII did things! Pope B16 is doing things. The Church moves on doing things. The Catholic Church in Indonesia is booming! Oh, and up until recently both my wife and I were involved with the Evangelistic community “Couples for Christ.” It’s a lay community founded in the Philippines committed to evangelism and family support. It’s a high commitment community I can tell you! But it is growing exponentially. Oh look, it was founded under JPII’s watch and given permanent Vatican recognition by him! ‘Cause, you see, real Pope’s are interested in people doing things and spreading the Gospel.

    Then how about you Mr. John Sobieski and your RadTrad group, have you done ANYTHING lately for your neighbor? Fill me. An advise from Christ Himself, so before you remove the splinter in JPII’s eyes remove the LOG in your eyes first so you could see better next time, ok?

  • Theclamauro

    Good comments re the second vaticancouncil. I am always astonished at how the same people who would argue that the church must change, throw out what doesn’t work, etc, seem to think that vcii is a singular moment meant to remain static.

  • 22martin89

    One does not need to be a “RadTrad” to understand that the abuses committed by wolves like Fr Maciel and Cardinal Groer – against whom allegations were repeatedly addressed to John Paul II, only to be ignored – were not liturgical.

    As for the claim that John Paul II “did more WORLDWIDE to push evangelism than any Pope I know in history”… I dare say that tells us more about the extent of your knowledge of history than it does about John Paul II. Successful Catholic evangelism has not, historically, involved publicly petitioning saints to protect false religions. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, search online for “john the baptist protect islam”; the Vatican’s own website will provide you with the text of that unprecedented prayer.

    Archbishop Vincent Nichols declares that “beatification is not a reward for being a good pope”. That is reassuring, since I have little doubt that, whatever his personal holiness, future Catholic historians will not be kind to John Paul’s papacy.

  • Michel Roi

    Um, maybe it’s because I’m a dim canuck, but I didn’t see much complaint here about liturgy (other than the topless lector). I read distress over protection offered to a pederast and fornicator who fathered at least two children while head of a religious order. I read sadness over a plush assignment given to a Cardinal who resigned from his Archdiocese in disgrace. And as for Assisi, it has nothing to do with liturgy, but rather with truth (Christianity) vs. falsehood (Islam and paganism). Then Cardinal Ratzinger openly disagreed with Assisi (yes, Catholics can actually disagree with the Pope on certain things), I’m sad he has changed his mind.

    It seems rather simplistic to label everyone who has questions about these things “a radtrad”. I attend a Novus Ordo Mass (well celebrated) and like my non Trad. parish. I know any number of people in the big centre between “radtrads” and “liberals” who question these and other things that occured in JP’s papacy. Things that extend far beyond liturgy. Indeed, I’m more concerned by JP II’s response to the clerical sex scandals, the accusations against Marcel Macial, his handling of the Vatican Bank and Archbishop Markincus, his strange gestures that seemed to contradict what he said in his documents – eg, giving a Pectoral Cross to the Archbishop of Canterbury who is a layman dressed in a clerical custume, and asking St. John the Baptist to protect Islam (good heavens, how about asking St. John to protect Christianity FROM islam?!?!?!) then his liturgical difficulties.

    JP II was a good man, even holy, but he seems to have dropped the ball in some very important areas and the Church will be reaping the consequences for some time to come

  • Michel Roi

    Sorry. The above comments were meant to be a response to AJ and not John Sobieski

  • http://spreadthyfragrance.blogspot.com/ Jackie Parkes

    Great post…it is great to be Catholic…& how grateful we are to God for giving us the gift of Blessed John Paul ll..

  • AgingPapist

    No saint would have convened Assisi, protected Marcial Maciel, admitted topless women at lectors, or rewarded Card. Law with Santa Maria Maggiore.
    ————————————————————————- I’d rather have “topless” lectors any day than mindless ultra traddies trying to bring back the middle ages with their antique liturgies in Latin. JP2 was at the mercy of his “Guy Friday”, Cardinal Ratzinger, and his henchmen who were anxious to protect every right-wing kook in the Church. All done in JP’s name too.

  • Pdudek

    we would like to inform you, that the famous polish bestseller
    “He liked Tuesdays best. The story of everyday life of John Paul II”
    is now available in english version on the bookstore Amazon.com and website
    http://jp2books.com