Wednesday, Aug 22, 2018
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Fast track to sainthood

Local religious leaders reflect on John XXIII and John Paul II

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    Sister Marie Andree Chorzempa holds a 1985 picture showing her shaking hands with Pope John Paul II.

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    Sister Marie Andree Chorzempa, 86, center, shakes hands with Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1985. "It was exciting," Sister Chorzempa said.

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Sister Marie Andree Chorzempa, 86, center, shakes hands with Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1985. "It was exciting," Sister Chorzempa said.

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At the 2005 funeral of Pope John Paul II in Rome people chanted “santo subito,” meaning “saint now” in Italian, and held up banners with those words.

On July 5, Pope Francis declared that the process of elevation to sainthood was complete and that both John Paul II and Pope John XXIII will be canonized.

The formal ceremony is expected later this year and with only eight years between John Paul’s death and recognition of his sainthood, “santo subito” is the correct term.

Peter Feldmeier, who holds the Margaret and Thomas Murray and James J. Bacik Endowed Chair in Catholic Studies at the University of Toledo, said it is very rare for a living person to claim personal contact with someone who has been named a saint. The “fast track” given to such people as John Paul II and Mother Teresa (beatified, not yet named a saint) makes that possible. 

“John Paul himself eased the rules and the time length on how saints are made,” Mr. Feldmeier said.

John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council that reformed the church in some ways, died 50 years ago. Michael Puppos, pastoral associate for music and liturgy at Blessed John XXIII Catholic Community in Perrysburg, said John’s sainthood “is not something that we expected to happen so soon, but something we’re looking forward to, and some very exciting times lie ahead for us.”

Bishop Leonard Blair of the Diocese of Toledo, who was appointed by John Paul to be auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit in 1999 (in 2003, he was named bishop of Toledo), worked in a church governmental office in Rome from 1986 to 1991.

“I was able to witness firsthand the ministry of Pope John Paul II,” he said.

Bishop Blair didn’t engage in extended conversation with the pope.

“I feel very privileged at the access I did have, and the opportunity to see him and to pray with him in several situations,” he said. It was John Paul’s “witness in the world that was an inspiration to me. I feel great gratitude for the life of Pope John Paul.


Sister Marie Andree Chorzempa holds a 1985 picture showing her shaking hands with Pope John Paul II.

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“I have known a lot of saints. The church doesn’t claim that just canonized saints are in heaven; everybody who goes to heaven is a saint. But somebody who’s actually [recognized] for public veneration, canonized, that’s a great honor.”

The Rev. Rafal Pokrywinski, a Polish priest who is at Sts. Adalbert & Hedwig Parish during the Rev. Joseph Poggemeyer’s sabbatical, spoke about his country’s devotion to the Polish pope.

“Until 2005, we thought he would live forever. Maybe not [literally], but we never thought anything else. For us it was something very important, and meeting him, really, it changed people,” said Father Pokrywinski, a doctoral student at John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland.

In 1999, when Father Pokrywinski was 18, John Paul visited Drohiczyn, Poland, in his diocese. He was one of many youths selected to hold wreaths John Paul would bless at an ecumenical service.

“It was something strong to see that man so close. I was two meters from him. ... He used to give rosaries, and everybody who came to him obtained a rosary, but I couldn’t approach because I had this wreath. After the ceremony a bishop came to us and gave us rosaries from the pope.”

Sister Marie Andree Chorzempa of the Sisters of St. Francis in Sylvania has a photo of her and John Paul shaking hands in 1985.

At the time, she was serving as congregational minister, the top office in her religious order, and she traveled to Rome.

“There was one time when I was standing in the right place, and it just worked out where I could extend my right hand and greet him in his native tongue,” she said.

“I know that there is a feeling that he let some people down, I know that, and I can understand what they’re saying about curtailing some of the renewal after Vatican II, but I don’t think I would deprive him of sainthood on that score alone,” Sister Marie Andree said. “After all, something has to be left for Pope Francis to do, and after the start he’s been on and everything he has been doing so far, it tells me he’s going to take that route.”

Bishop Blair also addressed criticism of John Paul.

“When you preside over a church of a billion people, you do bear a responsibility for the life of the church, but it doesn’t extend to absolutely everything all the time in your vigilance. Pope John Paul always wanted to do the right thing with whatever came to his attention. Some people may not agree and say that he or some other pope didn’t, but I do think [the right thing] would be in their heart and their desire.”

Sister Mary Stephan Kreinbrink worked in the Vatican secretary of state’s office assisting with the pope’s mail, including during John Paul’s 20th anniversary of being pope in 1998.

Her religious order, the Sisters of Notre Dame, had a general chapter meeting in Rome in 2004 and she says at that time she had an individual meeting with John Paul and received his blessing.

“I expressed my appreciation and gratitude,” Sister Mary Stephan said. “It’s an honor to have met him. ... His love for the church, his love for God, his love for Mary all were a part of his deep life of faith and prayer.”

Bishop Blair said John Paul II and John XXIII being recognized as saints is “a great encouragement not only to Catholics but to all people of goodwill, and by that I mean that the church canonizes people not because of their historical accomplishment but because the person is a great model of heroic virtue, that is, a model and inspiration for people.

“I think that’s very important to keep in mind. Both [popes] accomplished historical things, but it’s the person of Pope John XXIII and the person of Pope John Paul II that is being presented as an inspiration and model, and I think we need people of heroic virtue to be our models today, especially in our time.”

Bishop Blair spoke again about his personal connection.

“I pray every day to Pope John Paul,” he said. “I say, ‘You’re the one who made me a bishop; ask God to help me.’ That’s a close personal bond, to be appointed a bishop by him.”

Blessed John XXIII Catholic Community, 24250 Dixie Hwy. in Perrysburg, will be a stop on the annual Summer Tours of Houses of Worship at 11 a.m. on July 23.

The free tours are sponsored by Toledo Area Ministries.

Contact TK Barger at:, 419-724-6278 or on Twitter @TK_Barger.

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