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The dual canonizations on Sunday bring forth observations and footnotes.

Call this "notes on the historic canonizations":

-- First and foremost was the issue of crowds.

-- The Vatican did an incredible job inside the barricaded Square, which folks needed a ticket to enter.

-- The demeanor inside the Square was remarkably civilized and sedate, although reaching the Square, and funneling through various barricade entranceways, and then security scanners, was a test of patience and endurance (plus faith: there were times when one simply didn't know if one would get in). Those inside and outside the Square both had an unforgettable experience.

-- On the initial approach to the Square, one walked side by side with bishops and cardinals ("follow the red cap," was one way of finding the entrance, which was more like an obstacle course). More on the crowds in a moment.

-- It was also remarkable how the Vatican organized the seating of various "dignitaries" and Church officials, not to mention the media, who were a ways behind us, on a structure of semi-enclosed scaffolding that was three stories tall. They were also perched atop surrounding buildings -- cameras everywhere. There were many layers of organizational challenge, all of which were met to produce a highly artistic as well as holy liturgy. The singing was incredible; those who read at the podium were tremendous. The tonation and coordination in the Square had a touch of the heavenly, as did the banners of the two Popes, which seemed luminous.

-- Once in the Square, you could not leave until Pope Francis met each dignitary after Mass and the Popemobile made its rounds, which meant that from entrance into the Square around seven or eight a.m. to pushing out with massive crowds at the end tallied to six or more hours for most people -- but six glorious hours; certainly more than worth the tension.

-- Even in the Square, and reasonably close, it was difficult to tell all that was transpiring. Few knew that Lech Walesa was up there, to the left of Pope Francis, although one could distinguish a couple of kings and queens (and Newt Gingrich, who entered as we did). More important: there were relics of both saints up there (John Paul II's blood, skin from John XXIII).

-- It was an interesting juxtaposition: cardinals (and Pope Benedict XVI) on the right of Pope Francis, global leaders and delegations to his left, a display of the spiritual and worldly sides that the Church attempts to balance.

-- Many priests could not get into the Square because they had no tickets. (This is something that perhaps can be addressed in the future.)

-- The issue of declaring beatifications and sainthood without the old standard of two miracles (in the case of sainthood) may likewise be a future point of discussion. Pope John XXIII, of course, had only "one" verified miracle, and Pope Francis has been allowing some beatifications without medically-verifiable "miraculous" cures.

-- Then again, many miracles -- most -- go unreported. There is a famous case whereby in 1963 two trapped miners both saw John XXIII in a coal mine, dressed simply in cassock and surplice, looking half his age (he had died twelve weeks before). A barrage of psychological evaluations and even polygraph examinations backed up the notion that these miners had seen Saint John XXIII and had drawn comfort from his presence -- which lasted for a week (!), until their rescue. John XXIII was a man who emanated a pastoral kindness. And when he was elected, he once appeared -- to the shock of aides -- in simple cassock and surplice, as in the vision, reminding us of the current Pope after his election.

-- How many miracles have occurred through the intercession of John Paul II is anyone's guess. There already is at least one major book on them -- and the book came out a couple of years ago. Look for him to become an intercessor on par with some of the more prominent saints. What a feeling it was to see his banner! (And his tomb, which now, with a glow, says "sanctus").

-- There was quite a feeling across Rome. Many had surprising spiritual experiences far from the festivities; for me the most powerful one came during prayer three miles away in a hotel room. The Vatican itself, including St. Peter's (and of course the Sistine chapels), along with the major basilicas throughout the city, had been turned into museums: crowded, with everyone holding a cell phone or iPad to take pictures, such that a prayerful atmosphere in churches themselves was missing in action.

-- The media are reporting 500,000 to one million in attendance, with many citing the figure of 800,000 (this from Vatican Radio). Originally, estimates were that anywhere from a million to five million would be in Rome for it.

-- There certainly were not five million, and the city seemed well able, in most regards, to absorb the additional throngs -- except near the Vatican itself, where chaos reigned, and where the well-being of many faithful was threatened as they stood shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip and foot to foot with folks for as long as nine straight hours, crammed like proverbial sardines, with a complete inability to move, at times swept from their feet when the crowd began shifting in a new direction, carrying them to no-one-knew where, with no real sense of a police presence.

-- Many spent the entire morning like this (from early hours) and for some it was all night. Thousands (including elderly) slept on the streets before the crowd got to the point where there was no room to sleep (even on a curb).

-- These crowds filled several streets leading up to the Vatican, and their number may well have exceeded the number of people likewise crammed in the Square (those with tickets, or who got there early enough to squeeze into the back, unticketed area). The Square is said to hold up to 400,000, and doubling that comes to 800,000, though as stated there were probably more than that on the streets, and tens of thousands were elsewhere in the city, watching the event on a large screen outside of Saint Mary Major Basilica or on television, in the convenience of a hotel. Without seats the Square holds 500,000. It would be no surprise if the actual number in and around the Square was more like 1.2 million (several times Woodstock).

-- For after all those hours and all that jostling (for the most part with no food nor real restroom facilities), many people were unable to follow the Mass; the television screens were in many cases inadequate; nor could many out there on the streets receive Communion.

-- The sacrifice of these people so that they could simply be near the canonization is going to bring them extra graces, for certain. 

-- The guides said that John Paul II's beatification had drawn a crowd that may have been nearly as large, as had the canonization of Saint Padre Pio. But this was probably the biggest. History -- amazing Church history -- before our eyes. What effect a double-canonization had on crowd size and enthusiasm (naturally, it removed a certain focus) is difficult to tell; plus, many Poles had already been there for the beatification.

-- Many don't know that a miracle saved John Paul II in 1995 from assassination when a freak explosion in an apartment exposed a cell of al Qaeda operatives who had gathered explosives as well as priestly disguises and maps (plus a schedule of papal activities) in Manila during a papal visit. (They also had sought to blow up his plane.)

-- Pope John Paul II -- perhaps identified in a famous, long-ago, and alleged prophecy by Saint Malachy as a future pontiff who would be "from the labor of the sun" -- was born during a partial eclipse and during his funeral there was also a partial eclipse. He was closely associated with Fatima -- where there was that famous sun miracle.

-- There were no sun miracles that I heard about Sunday, but there was also no rain to speak of, despite forecasts, with the sun strong enough at times to put color on the skin. The sun always seems to break forth during major Vatican events.

-- Is John Paul II the "spark" that prepares the world for a coming of Christ, as indicated, perhaps, by Saint Faustina of the Divine Mercy revelations?

-- That this was Divine Mercy Sunday as well as an event involving four Pontiffs was remarkable, an event which in many aspects is unlikely ever to occur again.

-- On the approach to the Vatican is the famous Castel Sant'Angelo, where Michael appeared to a crowd, placing his sword back into its sheath after Pope Gregory the Great processed a miraculous image of Mary around Rome in order to halt a great plague that may be viewed as a chastisement. Pope John Paul II may one day be known as "John Paul the Great." The feeling at the Vatican when he was there, and when he said Mass, equaled anything I have experienced there since. As Pope Francis said, he was a "giant."

-- Johannes Paulus II also cared for the poor, once giving away his shoes to someone with no shoes and another time giving a poor family in Brazil his cardinal's ring.

-- His postulator notes that at times the countenance of John Paul II seemed to transfigure into that of Saint Padre Pio (and when told, the Pope reportedly said, "I see him (Pio) too").

-- When he was born, his mother had the window opened so the first sounds her child could hear was the singing at a church dedicated to Mary across the street.

-- He had a doctorate in mystical theology -- something rarely taught now in seminaries.

-- Said one seer who met him, "He has Our Lady's eyes."

-- Sister Lucia of Fatima told Cardinal Ricardo Vidal of the Philippines in 1993 that John Paul II's 1984 Consecration of the world "prevented an atomic war that would have occurred in 1985."

-- In our group of truly wonderful, spiritual, and kind pilgrims was a woman from Calgary in Canada who had a remarkable opportunity to meet John Paul II (along with her young son) during one of his small daily chapel Masses and who not only showed me the photographs, but related that when her son handed the Pope a picture of Our Lady, John Paul II asked where it was from and when the boy mentioned Medjugorje, the Pontiff, who was in his last years (suffering from Parkinson's), gave a wide, bright smile, glowing with joy. (We appreciate the discernment of a canonized saint, above that of many others.) John Paul II read the messages from that site and initiated World Youth Day with language strikingly mindful of a message that called for a major Church effort aimed at the young.

-- A priest once reported that two months before those apparitions, John Paul II had been praying fervently for Mary to come. And when he heard about the reputed events (in then-Communist Yugoslavia), he had remarked, "That is a response to my prayer."

-- The surprise of the day was the reaction or lack thereof when the two Popes were officially declared as saints. There were just two modest eruptions of applause. There wasn't the massive outpouring one anticipated, but the Mass was so exquisite it made up for this -- as did the simple, historic site of St. Peter's -- those august stones -- with the papal banners. This was perhaps due to the understated way it was done, with little drama leading up to it (it came just under fifteen minutes into the ceremony, before Mass, with no translation into languages like Italian, Spanish, or English) and thus one was unsure, but for hearing "sanctus," if it even was the official declaration; another factor:  the exhaustion of many in the crowd. 

-- As in surrounding nations, Communism fell in large part due to John Paul II's historic and miraculous efforts. This is one of several reasons why he should be known as "John Paul II the Great," taking his place among the three others: Pope Gregory the Great, Pope Leo the Great, and Saint Nicholas the Great.

-- That a canonization involved four Popes was amazing enough; add to that the involvement of one who will or should be known as "great," and yet also a highly personable saint who will intercede for your deepest spiritual needs and challenges. Don't be surprised if one day he is a saint up there with the likes of Padre Pio or the Little Flower.

-- How special, too, to be in the presence of a Pope -- John XXIII -- known as the "good Pope." You could feel his kindness and gentleness.

-- Michael H. Brown, 4/30/2014

[see also: The most beautiful of Masses: our report]

[And also: Flashback: did John XXIII appear to trapped miners?, Peter's four successors, The history, Pope: 'true sons of Mary', and 'They lived through times of tragedy but were not overwhelmed by it']

[We would like to thank Milanka Lachman of 206 Tours in New York for arranging our pilgrimage and the tickets for us to take a special priest into the Square]

[Note also: Michael Brown retreats: Philadelphia-New Jersey]

[Michael Brown's books]

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