APRIL 2014

Two Popes Who Would Be Saints

By Mariano “Anong” Santos
PINOY Editor/Publisher


Above Photo: Pope John Paul II at the Grant Park on Oct. 5, 1979 in what was to be the biggest mass ever celebrated in Chicago. The first Polish Pope was the first to visit the Windy City.

This coming April 27, two modern popes will be fast-tracked into sainthood by the Catholic Church. (See related story on page 58.) Despite my being a Methodist, I feel an unspeakable joy in being a witness in our age the canonization of two religious leaders whose papacy I have followed closely through news reports.

When Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council on Oct. 11, 1962, I personally felt the change in our lives. Growing up as a Protestant in our hometown of Arayat, Pampanga was difficult. There were only about seven families attending a small Methodist Church in our town where Catholic practices and traditions remained as described by Rizal in his novels.

The travails of a minority dawned upon us very darkly. The fifty years of American occupation –that brought in Methodism—did little to diminish the intolerance of those of the dominant faith.

Pope John XXIII's actions had profound impact upon myself as a student of architecture at the Pontifical University (UST). In the requirement for graduation in 1965, I had chosen to argue a thesis for an, "Interfaith Center at the Mindanao State University." The jury gave me a favorable verdict.

I savored films like "Lilies of the Fields" which won the Best Picture Oscar Award of 1963 plus the Best Actor Award for Sidney Poitier who played a Black (Baptist) handyman who helped six German nuns build a chapel in a desert in Arizona.

The Second Vatican Council brought changes like the Mass being celebrated in languages understood by the faithfuls. (Contrary to common belief, John XXIII actually preferred Latin but he deferred to the majority of the Ecumenical Council who recommended the change. Who said the Church is undemocratic?)

From the Wikipedia, I gathered the following:

Above Photo: Pope John XXIII: To be canonized on April 27.

"Unlike previous councils, it was unique as it did not issue any new dogmas, declares any anathemas, nor settled any grave heresies prevailing that time. Instead, the council became ideally known for its renewal of Catholic doctrine in a modern timeline and perspective. Several institutional changes resulted from the council, such as the renewal of consecrated life with a revised charism, and ecumenical efforts towards dialogue with other religions, the notion of the Catholic Church alone brings through ultimate salvation to mankind, and the expressive participation of laity in various religious activities. The most palpable change of the council was the widespread use of vernacular language in Holy Mass instead of the Latin language…

"Of those who took part in the council's opening session, four have become pontiffs to date: Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, who on succeeding Pope John XXIII took the name of Paul VI; Bishop Albino Luciani, the future Pope John Paul I; Bishop Karol Wojtyła, who became Pope John Paul II; and Father Joseph Ratzinger, present as a theological consultant, who became Pope Benedict XVI."

First Pope to Visit Chicago

Fast forward to Oct. 5, 1979. For 40 hours, the Windy City was frenzied with excitement. The first Polish Pope was visiting Chicago where the biggest Catholic Polish population outside Warsaw was said to be residing. Additionally, John Paul II would be the first pope to ever visit the city.

Even my employer then, Sargent & Lundy, dismissed us early so we could join the 200,000 who eventually showed up at Grant Park to see the pope celebrate mass. It was my first time to see a Catholic Vicar of Christ in person—if only from a distance. (Second time, I saw Pope Benedict VI riding a pope mobile at the St. Peter Square in Rome five years ago. He abdicated last year to pave the way to Pope Francis—the first one to come from Latin America.)

In his homily before the biggest mass ever assembled in Chicago in 1979, John Paul II said, "Looking at you, I see people who have thrown their destinies together and now write a common history. . . . This is the way America was conceived; this is what she was called to be. . . . But there is another reality that I see when I look at you. . . . your unity as members of the People of God."

Historic events and memorable words that resonate into the present—testimony to an event this month that is soon to come to pass—events and words that are beacons to our journey now into the future.

"No Ordinary Time"

The last national leader met by U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the Philippine Commonwealth President Sergio Osmena, Sr. It was a week before April 12, 1945—the day Roosevelt died of massive stroke in his retreat house in Warm Springs, Georgia where he found soothing comfort from the demands of a war-time presidency and from the pain he suffered of the paralysis from the polio he contracted when he was 39. Roosevelt was 63.

The Osmena account is one consolation that I take because there are few references to the Philippines in this book which is not to say it is not worth our time. I assure you "No Ordinary Time" is a must read.

This monumental work won Doris Kerns Goodwin the Pulitzer Prize for history in 1995. It is another stirring account of an extra-ordinary time in the history of the United States. Although Roosevelt was the only American president who won four terms, this massive book covers only the period of his presidency from May 1940 to April 1945, starting when Roosevelt convinced U.S. Congress to help England survive the overpowering Nazi attack up until 1945 when the Axis powers led by Germany and Japan lost the bloodiest and costliest war ever fought on Earth.

It was also just about the time when the American people were recovering from the Great Depression and were emerging from isolation to become the industrial giant that would make America the most powerful nation today.

Amidst this back drop, Goodwin wrote another engaging book not only about a charismatic president but also about his wife, Eleanor, who wisely used her being the First Lady who would leverage her proximity to power to effect far-reaching changes in the political and social life of minorities and women.

Uncommon Relationship

Goodwin candidly painted an uncommon relationship between the Roosevelts. Eleanor who discovered in 1919 the illicit affair between her beautiful secretary, Lucy Mercer, and her husband—opted to stay married to Franklin but demanded to sleep in a separate bedroom.

The White House during World War II was more of a dormitory for hundreds who stayed there for keeps. Aside from the Roosevelt's extended families, families of the presidential staff lodged there, as well, for months and years.

Winston Churchill was a regular sleep-over. The president's secretary, Missy LeHand who was long been suspected by the Roosevelt children of being the president's mistress and Eleanor's press secretary who was hinted to have had a lesbian relationship with the First Lady were lengthily discussed in the book. But it was the influence exacted by the First Lady from her husband that actually benefitted the country that Goodwin had extensively expounded.

While it was conceded that Franklin Roosevelt was a consummate politician, it is a revelation on how powerful Eleanor had been during those times. But she never used those privileges to advance her personal agenda. Her relentless deeds practically nourished the seeds of the civil rights and the women's rights movement that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Conscience

Eleanor became the conscience of a male-dominated regime. She fought for the Japanese-Americans who were unjustly put in concentration camps, the Blacks in the Armed Services who suffered racial prejudices despite their deep patriotism, the marginalized women who worked in factories because of labor shortages and exploited workers who were short-changed by the military-industrialists who made a killing as war suppliers. She argued with her husband for all of them to get a fair shake.

Notably, the press then was prudent in its reporting. News photographers' photos of the president in his wheel chair never saw print. Hardly mentioned were extra-marital affairs that included a Swedish princess who took refuge in the White House. Lucy Mercer was with Roosevelt when he died. (These all changed in recent times. For instance, when Bill Clinton shared power with Hilary or in matters of Bill's sexual dalliance, the press had a field day and it skewered the White House tenants.)

Goodwin approached her narrative with freshness. It was reported that she interviewed 89 persons who had direct contacts with the Roosevelts for this book. This historian's diligence is worthy of our trust. Her stories could hardly be taken as gossip. That is one compelling reason why her book is worth our time.

Check it out, yourself. •

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