With thanks to the Holy Spirit, it is appropriate to appreciate the wonder of the gifts of two specific papal conclaves in the 20th Century. One was when Angelo Guiseppe Roncalli (John XXIII) was elected Supreme Pontiff in October 1958, and another just twenty years later when Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II) assumed this mantle.
There are many wonders associated with these two much loved, honoured and respected men who in their priestly ministries throughout their lives, used their acquired knowledge of what God's faithful needed and yearned for. Each, in leading and guiding the Church in his own special way, has also been the catalyst for world change.
On a personal note, the wonder is not just that by means of modern communication I, together with billions of people all around the world, will be able view the canonisation ceremony when these two extraordinary Popes acquire sainthood, but that untold numbers of Catholics can reflect on the fact that we have lived during these two pontificates, and our lives have been indelibly altered because of them.
The signing in 1961 of the Bull Humanae Salutis by Blessed John XXIII, which set up the Second Vatican Council, calling bishops from all over the world to come together to reflect, to 'read the signs of the times', to strengthen the faith and to advance new ways of proclaiming the Gospel. Vatican II addressed itself "to the whole of humanity", and the Pastoral Constitution On The Church In The Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) was promulgated two years after his death, with profound consequences for women.
The dignity of each human person, the responsibility of each to further the Kingdom of God, fostering the nobility of marriage and the family, and the role of the Church in the modern world are just a few of the far-reaching issues considered and dealt with. When one realises that Blessed John XXIII's pontifical reign lasted for only less than five years, his legacy is enormous. Given at Rome, only 2 months before he died, the Encyclical Letter of His Holiness Pope John XXIII Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth) is the blueprint for "Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity and Liberty".
During my work with the World Union of Catholic Women's Organisations (WUCWO) I have had the heart-warming pleasure of witnessing how women in about 60 countries in the world put into practice the wise teachings in this encyclical. I urge all women to study both of these wonderful documents which are even more relevant today than when written. (WUCWO has as its patron Our Lady Queen of Peace, with a beautiful portrait, prayer and hymn.)
Blessed Pope John Paul II, with a much longer pontificate, was the travelling pope. His visits to many countries inspired millions of people. His humility, his unshakeable faith in times of his own persecution under Nazism and Communism, his empathy with all who suffered, and his own role in foreign affairs and peacemaking will be felt and chronicled for years to come.
For women, however, his Apostolic Letter, Mulieris Dignitatem, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, was a source of clarification for women and about women, who by their human nature, give the gift of self in their daily lives. Yet again to read this document is a joy, the Old and New Testaments are woven together culminating in the place and role of Mary the Mother of God.
For me to have had the opportunity to be involved in the 2008 Pontifical Council for the Laity-inspired International Congress 'WOMAN AND MAN: the humanum in its entirety' on the 20th anniversary of this Apostolic Letter, was a truly unforgettable experience. Presenters of the highest calibre – prelates, lay men and women, and consecrated women from many countries – presented meaningful reflections on many aspects of the lives of women and their complementarity with men. This initiative once again reinforced and affirmed the Church's position on women; in the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II: The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine "genius"...she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness.
To have had the privilege of being in the presence of His Holiness Pope John Paul II more than once, to have seen him as his health declined, to know that he was offering his suffering as an example to the sick and infirm that he too suffered with them, was a moving experience. His act of forgiveness to his attempted assassin exemplified his love and his deep empathy with even those who would do him harm.
How could one not love these two Popes, soon to be Saints; indeed, the wonder of them both!
Brenda Finlayson DSG
WUCWO Board Member Australia 2001-10
WUCWO Vice President General 2006-10.