QUEZON City, April 28, 2014—In what became a “World Youth Day” (WYD) throwback, thousands of Filipinos thronged the SMART Araneta Coliseum Sunday, April 27, to witness history being made as two of the best-loved popes of modern times, John XXIII and John Paul II, were “raised to the honor of the altar”.
“It’s like World Youth Day 1995 all over again,” Migs Ramirez, one of the event’s emcees, exclaimed in Tagalog on seeing how enthused the audience had become for the popes’ double canonization.
“Biggest Christian gathering”
He alluded to the international Catholic youth event held in Manila in 1995, which was presided over by Pope, now Saint, John Paul II and attended by between three to five million people from different parts of the world.
The sheer number of WYD attendees prompted record book Guinness to call it the “largest Papal audience” and others as the “biggest Christian gathering” ever.
In a speech before delegates of the International Youth Forum at the University of Santo Tomás (UST), St. John Paul himself referred to it as the “Filipino phenomenon”.
“I see that it is my great privilege to be here, to be here and discover anew this phenomenon I knew before, and today I know better,” he said.
As one who had taken part in the event as a child, Ramirez also shared how just being in the presence of the Pope could make one tear up, adding that this is an experience shared and confirmed by many.
He also invited them to sing “Tell the World of His Love”, the WYD 1995 theme song, which they were only too happy to do.
Architect of Vatican II
Jesuit Communications (JesCom) executive director Fr. Emmanuel “Nono” Alfonso, SJ pointed out that while not as familiar to Filipinos as St. John Paul II had been, St. John XXIII’s brief but colorful pontificate revolutionized the Church in ways that continue to affect the lives of billions of Catholics to this day.
“St. John XXIII made the mass more accessible to the laity when he allowed use of the vernacular in place of the traditional Latin… He redefined the idea of the word Church to include not only the ordained few but all the baptized faithful… He had also given them greater participation in Church affairs,” Alfonso explained in summary.
Thanks to technology, the gathered faithful at Araneta, composed mainly of families, couples, friends, nuns, seminarians, and the clergy, were able to watch the canonization rites at St. Peter’s unfold via live streaming.
The otherwise mostly silent crowd exploded in thunderous applause when Pope Francis pronounced the formula of canonization which effectively made the two popes’ status as saints official.
In Latin, the present pontiff mentioned that after deliberating, consulting and praying for divine assistance “we declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II be saints and we enroll them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church.”
A short clip on the life and legacy of St. John XXIII was shown to the audience ahead of the canonization.
It highlighted his humble beginnings, his humor, his down-to-earth attitude, and his indispensable role in the promotion of world peace.
“Shepherds, Servants & Saints”
That of St. John Paul II paid tribute to his pastoral work and his efforts to reach out to all, including non-Catholics, and to a papacy that defended life and the dignity of labor.
The event called “Shepherds, Servants & Saints” was organized by Church-run media group Jesuit Communications (JesCom) with the help of the J. Amado Araneta Foundation and satellite television provider Cignal.
It concluded with a joint singing of “Tell the World of His Love”, the WYD 1995 theme song. (Raymond A. Sebastián)