A tale of two popes
POINTILLISMS - Mike Acebedo Lopez (The Freeman) - May 3, 2014 - 12:00am

Last Sunday, Pope Francis canonized two predecessors — an unprecedented move that's seen to unify conservative and progressive components of a two millennia-old church challenged by the changing times — and did so in the presence of another.

Saints John XXIII, the progressive, and John Paul II, the conservative, brought a crucial balance to Catholicism at a turning point in modern church history. "They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century," Pope Francis said in his homily. "They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them."

"John XXIII and John Paul II cooperated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the church in keeping with her pristine features, those features which the saints have given her throughout the centuries," the popular pontiff elaborated further.

The progressive John convened the Second Vatican Council that has made it possible for masses to be said in Tagalog, Cebuano, and in practically all of the major Philippine languages and dialects. The conservative and charismatic John Paul, on the other hand, championed the defense and propagation of core church teachings on abortion and the family, helping topple communism while at it.  Both their papacies (with two popes in between them) cumulatively, and at the time, achieved a delicate balance that brought together liberals and traditionalists in an increasingly diverse Roman Catholic Church.

The desire to unify the conservative and progressive wings of the church is evident in Pope Francis's decision to canonize both popes at the same time. This message of balance and call for unity was highlighted further in his homily during a historic canonization mass that not only saw the simultaneous elevation of two modern era popes to the annals of Catholic sainthood, but has also made history as the first time a reigning and retired pope celebrated mass together in public since Saint Peter the Apostle became the first pope of the church over 2,000 years ago.

And this balance continues with the two living popes who concelebrated with other cardinals that historic canonization mass, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.


Many laud Francis for his simple ways, for what is seen as a departure from the more stern and unyielding papacy to one that is more open and tolerant, for his move to account for the church' sins in the past, and for his willingness to reach out to the LGBT community and other sectors previously alienated by past statements from the church. He leads by example. He is charismatic. And he speaks the language of our time.

But we often forget to give credit to his predecessor Benedict who had to give way for all of this to happen. In an inspired move, Benedict made the supreme sacrifice and resigned his post — the first time someone relinquished the papacy in over half a millennium.

His selfless act of resignation showed his wisdom as a pastor and leader, as someone who truly understood the will of God. When most leaders cling to power come hell or high water, Benedict, through a "mystical experience," realized that staying on as pope was, perhaps, not what the church needed at the most crucial and testing of times.

"My strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," he said then. Now, according to sources, after witnessing the "charisma" of his successor, Benedict said he understood to a greater extent how stepping aside was the "will of God."

Benedict was known for his scholarly brilliance and for being a traditionalist who sought to preserve the church's core teachings. Francis is widely regarded as someone who is more liberal and progressive. But if you listen closely to what he has to say, he is actually preaching the same set of eternal truths, the same dogma that his predecessor Benedict strongly espoused. Only that he says it differently. Benedict's was hard sell while Francis's style is soft sell, but they're both selling what is essentially the same product. 

It goes without saying that in this day and age when individualism and moral relativism are embraced by nearly everyone, even by professed Catholics, Francis's brand of leadership is exactly what wins hearts and minds. Again, he speaks the language of our time.

While we celebrate the leadership of Francis, how he has started to shepherd Christ's church into the modern times, let us also remember the humility and wisdom of his predecessor Benedict and thank God for gifting us with two living popes who are fulfilling their respective roles at exactly the right time in our beloved Roman Catholic Church's history — all for God's greater glory! 


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