The big story this weekend was Pope Francis' elevation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II to sainthood. The "four-pope mass" was noteworthy not only because two popes (John XXIII and John Paul II) had never been canonized at the same time, but also because two living popes (Francis and the papal emeritus Benedict XVI) had never been present for a canonization. They were joined by nearly a million other people in Vatican City.
In his homily, Pope Francis praised both 20th-century pontiffs effusively. The Holy See also sought to dispel the public curiosity about the canonization of two men who were considered to be dogmatically very different; the "liberal" Pope John XXIII and the "conservative" John Paul II.
“They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful.”
Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Father James Martin offered that the biographical differences between major figures in the history of the church are part of what made their spiritual quests compelling.
Consider how the personalities of some of the most notable men and women in the church led them to live out their calls. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, gave up a military career to follow God; St. Joan of Arc began one. Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, started a newspaper, while St. Bernadette Soubirous, the visionary of Lourdes, shrank in horror from the idea of her story ever being published. St. Thomas Aquinas spent his life surrounded by books, while St. Francis of Assisi instructed his friars not to own even one lest they become too proud."
Ahead of the weekend's event, Pope Francis showed glimpses of that complexity on Friday, when he made a seemingly rare statement to a group of African bishops in which he strongly condemned abortion.
Abortion compounds the grief of many women who now carry with them deep physical and spiritual wounds after succumbing to the pressures of a secular culture which devalues God’s gift of sexuality and the right to life of the unborn.”
Pope Francis has made a habit of focusing on poverty and social inequality rather than abortion, which remains a divisive issue both within and beyond the Catholic church. Two weeks before, he had called abortion "an unspeakable crime" during a speech to an Italian anti-abortion group.