Vatican City, April 5, 29 - They brought flowers and messages to his grave. They sang songs evoking his memory. And they prayed for his beatification.
The fourth anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II April 2 was marked by a sense of anticipation following reports that the late pontiff would be beatified on the fifth anniversary next year.
The Vatican has played down those rumors. But among the thousands who flocked to his tomb and gathered in St. Peter's Basilica for a memorial Mass, the feeling was strongly hopeful.
"There's all kinds of talk about him being beatified. It's only a matter of time before it happens. He's heading so fast toward sainthood that they're only waiting to give him a little bit more legitimacy, I guess," said Samantha Coveleski, 22, of Lewes, Del.
Coveleski was among hundreds of people who jammed the crypt area of St. Peter's Basilica April 2 to pay their respects at Pope John Paul II's tomb. They left candles, photos and letters, and murmured prayers in many languages. On the white marble tombstone lay three red roses.
"So many people loved this guy so much. When you're at the tomb you can really see what the big deal is," Coveleski said. "He was so accessible during his papacy, and here you can really see and feel how much he was loved."
Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the commemorative Mass and said he was praying for "the gift of beatification" for his predecessor. In 2005, Pope Benedict set Pope John Paul on the fast track to beatification by waiving the normal five-year waiting period for the introduction of his sainthood cause.
That seemed to respond to the "Santo subito!" ("Sainthood now!") banners that were held aloft at Pope John Paul's funeral.
The initial diocesan phase of the cause was completed in April 2007. Last November a team of theological consultors to the Congregation for Saints' Causes began studying the 2,000-page "positio," the document that makes the case for beatification, according to Archbishop Angelo Amato, head of the congregation.
Archbishop Amato told Vatican Radio that once the theological study of the "positio" is completed, the cause will be considered by the cardinal and bishop members of the congregation. If approved, it will then go to the pope for a final decision on a decree of "venerability," which means the person lived the Christian virtues heroically.
Meanwhile, a presumed miracle through the intercession of the late pope -- involving a French nun said to have been cured of Parkinson's disease -- is being studied in a five-step process that involves medical experts, a medical board, theological consultors, the members of the congregation and, finally, the pope.
With the decree of venerability and a confirmed miracle, beatification can take place.
Archbishop Amato emphasized that the Vatican could not promise a timetable for all this. The fact that the Vatican is expediting the cause doesn't mean "haste or superficiality," but on the contrary demands methodical attention to detail, he said.
Five years from death to beatification may not strike people as "subito," but it would be a modern record in the church; even for Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was described by many as a "living saint" and for whom the waiting period was also waived, it took six years to complete the process.
Still, the Vatican loves anniversaries, and no one has ruled out next April 2 as the big day. Polish Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, personal secretary to the late pope and one of his biggest beatification boosters, said in March that the process would be completed in a few months.
Cardinal Dziwisz, in Rome for the fourth anniversary, told reporters that a presumed miracle had recently occurred at Pope John Paul II's tomb in St. Peter's Basilica.
A nine year-old Polish boy from Gdansk, suffering from cancer of the kidneys and unable to walk, was brought to the tomb by his parents, Cardinal Dziwisz said. When they left St. Peter's, the boy told them, "I want to walk," and began walking in good health, he said.
Vatican officials are not publicizing what are said to be 251 "inexplicable" healings or other events attributed to Pope John Paul II's intercession, and which have been filed away. Like Archbishop Amato, the officials emphasize the seriousness of the study being undertaken and insist there are no foregone conclusions.
The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, has marked this year's anniversary with the same serious tone, saying sainthood was more than the elevation of a popular personality.
"The cry of 'Santo subito!' after the death of John Paul II had strong meaning. But its repetition by the media is mistaken: The official recognition of sainthood must be connected to the church's process of sanctification," said a front-page article April 2.
The same article related an interesting anecdote about the relationship between Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict who, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, served more than 23 years under the late pope as head of the doctrinal congregation.
When meeting to review the drafts of important documents with his top collaborators, it said, Pope John Paul would sometimes sit back at the end of the conversation and say: "We need to go back to this topic again. From his expression, I can see that Cardinal Ratzinger is not fully convinced. We need to reflect some more."
Vatican City, April 04, 2009 - In a letter to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Pope Benedict XVI urged leaders from the world's wealthiest nations to stabilize financial markets without excluding families and the poor.
In the March 30 letter, Pope Benedict emphasized that participants in the Group of 20 leaders' summit in London April 2-3 must find a way out of the global economic crisis but must avoid selfish or protectionist solutions.
The pope said the solutions must seek "to offer security to families and stability to workers and, through appropriate regulations and controls, to restore ethics to the financial world."
"If a key element of the crisis is a deficit of ethics in economic structures, the same crisis teaches us that ethics is not external to the economy, but internal, and that the economy cannot function if it does not bear within it an ethical component," said the pope.
Development aid -- including debt cancellation -- "has not been the cause of the crisis and, out of fundamental justice, must not be its victim," he said.
In a March 31 letter responding to the pope, Brown said protecting the poorest is one of his top priorities.
"It is vital that rich countries keep their promises on aid even in these tough times," he said.
"This is a decisive moment for the world economy. ... We can either let the recession run its course or we can resolve as a world community to unite, to stand with millions of people struggling in these tough times, to fight back against this global recession that is hurting so many people in every continent," he said. "I hope that the world's leaders can come together to rise to this challenge."
The G-20 is an informal forum that promotes discussion among industrial and emerging-market countries on key issues related to global economic stability. It includes representatives of 19 countries and the European Union; representatives of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund are ex-officio members.
Vatican City, April 01, 2009 (VIS) - Made public was the Message of Benedict XVI for the 46th World Day of Prayer for Vocations, which is due to be celebrated on 3 May, the fourth Sunday of Easter, and which has as its theme this year: "Faith in the divine initiative - the human response". The Message has been published in Spanish, English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese and Polish.
Extracts from the text are given below:
"The exhortation of Jesus to His disciples: 'Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest' has a constant resonance in the Church. Pray! The urgent call of the Lord stresses that prayer for vocations should be continuous and trusting".
"The vocation to the priesthood and to the consecrated life constitutes a special gift of God which becomes part of the great plan of love and salvation that God has for every man and woman and for the whole of humanity".
"In the universal call to holiness, of particular relevance is God's initiative of choosing some to follow His Son Jesus Christ more closely, and to be His privileged ministers and witnesses. ... Responding to the Lord's call and docile to the movement of the Holy Spirit, over the centuries, countless ranks of priests and consecrated persons placed themselves totally at the service of the Gospel in the Church. Let us give thanks to God, because even today He continues to call together workers into His vineyard.
"While it is undoubtedly true that a worrisome shortage of priests is evident in some regions of the world, and that the Church encounters difficulties and obstacles along the way, we are sustained by the unshakeable certitude that the One Who firmly guides her in the pathways of time towards the definitive fulfilment of the Kingdom is He, the Lord, Who freely chooses persons of every culture and of every age and invites them to follow Him according to the mysterious plans of His merciful love.
"Our first duty, therefore, is to keep alive in families and in parishes, in movements and in apostolic associations, in religious communities and in all the sectors of diocesan life this appeal to the divine initiative with unceasing prayer".
"What is asked of those who are called ... is careful listening and prudent discernment, a generous and willing adherence to the divine plan, and a serious study of the reality that is proper to the priestly and religious vocations, so as to be able to respond responsibly and with conviction".
"In the Eucharist, that perfect gift which brings to fulfilment the plan of love for the redemption of the world, Jesus offers Himself freely for the salvation of mankind. ... It is priests who are called to perpetuate this salvific mystery from century to century. ... In the celebration of the Eucharist it is Christ Himself Who acts in those whom He chooses as His ministers; He supports them so that their response develops in a dimension of trust and gratitude that removes all fear, even when they experience more acutely their own weakness, or indeed when the experience of misunderstanding or even of persecution is most bitter".
"To believe in the Lord and to accept His gift, therefore, leads us to entrust ourselves to Him with thankful hearts, adhering to His plan of salvation. When this does happen, the one who is 'called' voluntarily leaves everything and submits himself to the teaching of the divine Master; hence a fruitful dialogue between God and man begins, a mysterious encounter between the love of the Lord Who calls and the freedom of man who responds in love".
"This intertwining of love between the divine initiative and the human response is present also, in a wonderful way, in the vocation to the consecrated life. ... Attracted by Him, from the very first centuries of Christianity, many men and women have left families, possessions, material riches and all that is humanly desirable in order to follow Christ generously and live the Gospel without compromise, which had become for them a school of deeply rooted holiness".
"The response of men and women to the divine call, whenever they are aware that it is God Who takes the initiative and brings His plan of salvation to fulfilment, ... expresses itself in a ready adherence to the Lord's invitation. ... Without in any sense renouncing personal responsibility, the free human response to God thus becomes 'co-responsibility', responsibility in and with Christ, through the action of His Holy Spirit; it becomes communion with the One Who makes it possible for us to bear much fruit.
"An emblematic human response, full of trust in God's initiative, is the generous and unmitigated 'Amen' of the Virgin of Nazareth, uttered with humble and decisive adherence to the plan of the Most High. ... I want to entrust to her all those who are aware of God's call to set out on the road of the ministerial priesthood or consecrated life.
"Dear friends, do not become discouraged in the face of difficulties and doubts; trust in God and follow Jesus faithfully and you will be witnesses of the joy that flows from intimate union with Him".
Vatican City, Mar. 26, 2009 - Mockery is not acceptable in public discussions, especially when the subject is the pope, said the president of the Italian Catholic bishops' conference.
"We will not accept that the pope, in the media or anywhere else, is mocked or offended," said Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, opening the spring meeting of the permanent council of the Italian bishops' conference.
Cardinal Bagnasco told other members of the council March 23 there has been "a heavy activity of criticism -- from Italy and, especially, from abroad -- regarding our beloved pope."
He said the public criticism began in January when the pope lifted the excommunications of four traditionalist bishops belonging to the Society of St. Pius X, including a bishop who denied the extent of the Holocaust, and continued into March when Pope Benedict said the distribution of condoms was not the key to stopping the spread of AIDS.
Some of the sharpest criticism came from France's former prime minister, Alain Juppe, who describes himself as a Catholic. He was quoted by French television as saying the pope was "becoming a real problem" and "lives in a situation of total autism."
Cardinal Bagnasco said Catholics and all people of good will should try to understand what the pope was saying and what he meant, rather that immediately going on the attack.
The pope represents "a moral authority" in the world, which his March trip to Africa highlighted once again, he said.
"For Catholics he is Peter who, with the nets of a fisherman and in the name of the lord Jesus, continues to reach the shores of the world," Cardinal Bagnasco said.
The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India said in a March 24 statement that the conference "considers these kinds of statements ... irresponsible and irreverent."
The bishops defended Pope Benedict as "the most loved and respected spiritual leader of Catholics all over the world." They argued that the world had received with respect his views on the recession, terrorism and moral issues such as AIDS and abortion.
The pope has often urged the world to become "more God-fearing while building a society based on humanitarian values and moral principles of life," they said.
"It is the moral duty (of the pope) to direct and guide the consciences of people in general, and of Catholics in particular," the statement added.
Luanda, Angola, Mar 21, 2009 - Pope Benedict gathered the bishops of Angola and Sao Tome at the apostolic nunciature on Friday night to speak about the state of the Church in their country, warning them to fight the spread of relativism by promoting an "adult and mature faith."
"God will reward you," he told the prelates, "for all the apostolic work which you have accomplished in difficult conditions, both during the war and at the present time, in spite of so many limitations, thus helping to give the Church in Angola and in Sao Tome and Principe that dynamism which everyone acknowledges."
However, the Church still faces other challenges such as "widespread relativism which acknowledges nothing as definitive and, even more, tends to make its ultimate measure the individual and his personal caprice," the Pope cautioned.
In the face of relativism, he said, "we hold out another measure: the Son of God, Who is also true man. Christ is the measure of true humanism. The Christian marked by an adult and mature faith is not one who is borne along by the waves of fashion and the latest novelties, but one who lives deeply rooted in the friendship of Christ. This friendship opens us up to all that is good, and it provides us with the criterion for discerning between error and truth."
The Holy Father also praised the efforts of the bishops to develop a communications strategy since "culture and models of behavior are nowadays more and more conditioned and shaped by the images set forth by the communications media." This strategy, the Pope observed, "will enable you to provide everyone with a Christian interpretation of human events, problems and realities."
As he did in Cameroon, Pope Benedict also focused the bishops’ attention on the "difficulties and threats" facing families, which he said "are particularly in need of evangelization and practical support." This is all the more necessary because many marriages are proving to be fragile and there is a "widespread tendency in society and culture to call into question the unique nature and specific mission of the family based on marriage."
"In your pastoral concern which extends to every human being," he added, "continue to raise your voice in defense of the sacredness of human life and the value of the institution of marriage, as well as in promotion of the family's proper role in the Church and in society, at the same time demanding economic and legislative measures to support the family in bearing and raising children."
Pope Benedict also shared his joy at the vibrancy of the faith community in Angola and Sao Tome, citing the increasing number of native priests and of the faithful.