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John XXIII and John Paul II – The bookends of Vatican II

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April 27, 2014: In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Pope Francis, right, embraces his predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, during a ceremony in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. (AP/L' Osservatore Romano)

Today’s “doubleheader” in Rome marks the canonization of both Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II as saints.

These two beloved figures are still so familiar to us, especially John Paul, who died a mere nine years ago, but also John XXIII, Il Buono Papa, “The Good Pope,” as Italians still call him, and who many of us still fondly recall.

It is tempting to try to define these two popes with neat characterizations, in order to try to draw differences between them.

The smiling Pope John XXIII, elected in 1958 when he was almost 77 and thought to be a “caretaker” pope following the long reign of Pius XII, instead shocked the world by calling the Second Vatican Council and “opening the windows of the Church” so that it might better engage the world. He had a relatively brief papacy, lasting less than 5 years.

John Paul II, the first non-Italian Pope in over 400 years, was only 58 years old when he was elected in 1978, full of strength and vigor. He traveled the world, survived an assassination attempt, helped bring about the fall of communism in Europe, and had one of the longest reigns — nearly 27 years — of any pope in history, and let us watch him as he died.


Click for Cardinal Dolan’s Op-Ed in the New York Daily News.

Timothy Cardinal Dolan is the tenth and current Archbishop of New York.