As Catholic Church Canonises 2 Former Popes, Question Emerges – Are Saints Still Relevant in Today’s World?

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By Vittorio Hernandez | April 27, 2014 7:14 PM EST

Catholic faithful gather along Via Della Conciliazione in front of St. Peter's Square to attend the canonisation ceremony of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II at the Vatican April 27, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonisation on Sunday. REUTERS/Remo Casilli (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)
Catholic faithful gather along Via Della Conciliazione in front of St. Peter's Square to attend the canonisation ceremony of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II at the Vatican April 27, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonisation on Sunday. REUTERS/Remo Casilli (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)

All roads led to the Vatican City on Sunday, April 27, as the Catholic world witnessed the canonisation of two former pontiffs - Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII.

About one million pilgrims from different parts of the world have descended into the Holy See, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church, to be part of a historic moment when two leaders of the church are declared saints.

The canonisation rite, which begins at 9 am and is expected to end by 12 noon, Rome time, however, has its share of criticism such as the fast track method to declare John Paul II saint just nine years after his death as well as claims by groups representing victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests that he did not do enough to address the scandal squarely.

After the big celebration, after the pilgrims have toured the Vatican City and returned to their respective countries, the question weeks after the euphoria have died down is do saints still have a relevance to the modern world.

Save for devout Catholics, who still number in million and believe in the power of saints by praying through these holy people via novenas, other members of the church either link saints to their feast days which are days of celebration in parishes or see them as holy people whose exemplary lives are difficult to emulate in today's world.

Although there are more than 10,000 saints, many people view them as creatures of the past centuries as it takes decades to declare people as saints, so the canonisation of the former Karol Wojtyla - whom many people witnessed because of his travels to 129 nations as Pope John Paul II would help bridge that gap.

A child walks past a poster of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII (R) at a mall in Managua April 26, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernizing Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonization on Sunday. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas (NICARAGUA - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY)
A child walks past a poster of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII (R) at a mall in Managua April 26, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernizing Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonization on Sunday. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas (NICARAGUA - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY)

The Church also emphasised that contrary to popular belief,  saints are not perfect people but persons with flaws but who relied on God's grace.

Quoting Pope John XXIII, CNN cited a writing by the then Angelo Giuseppi Roncalli a year before his ordination, that each saint is "holy in a different way," but the differences enhance instead of detract the value of saints.

CNN also pointed out that the two new saints offer a model of risk-taking based on their strong sense or moral purpose, sticking to conservative teachings of the Catholic Church seen by many as outdated.

Nuns take photographs as they wait for a canonisation ceremony to start in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 27, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonisation on Sunday. REUTERS/Max Rossi (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)
Nuns take photographs as they wait for a canonisation ceremony to start in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 27, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonisation on Sunday. REUTERS/Max Rossi (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)

It also quoted Augustana College associate professor of philosophy David O'Hara, who said, "It should matter to us when our neighbors announce that they have designated new moral exemplars" which would provide the world ideals, heroes and models for their lives.

Moving without fear was also cited by Claire Noonan, vice president for Mission and Ministry at the Dominican University in Illinois, as the shared characteristics of the two new saints. She pointed to Pope John Paul II's work against communist oppression in Poland and Pope John XXIII's efforts to liberate the church from the fear of modernism.

Pope Francis touches the statue of Virgin Mary as he arrives for the canonisation ceremony of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 27, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonisation on Sunday. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)
Pope Francis touches the statue of Virgin Mary as he arrives for the canonisation ceremony of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 27, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonisation on Sunday. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)

The New York Times sees the twin canonisation as an opportunity for Pope Francis, whose first 12 months as pontiff was characterised by attempting to erase the divisions within the church, "to deftly avoid elevating one man over the other."

Kathleen Sprows Cummings, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, agreed that "The Catholic Church is big enough to encompass the devotees of John XXIII and John Paul II ... That is the message he is sending."

Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia (R), King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium (L) await the start of the canonisation ceremony of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 27, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonisation on Sunday. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION ROYALS)
Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia (R), King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium (L) await the start of the canonisation ceremony of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 27, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonisation on Sunday. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION ROYALS)

Read also:

Crucifix Dedicated to Pope John Paul II Crashes to Death Italian Man Posing for Souvenir Photo

A Tale of Two Saints: Popes John Paul II & John XXIII

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Catholic faithful gather along Via Della Conciliazione in front of St. Peter's Square to attend the canonisation ceremony of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II at the Vatican April 27, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonisation on Sunday. REUTERS/Remo Casilli (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)
(Photo: / )
A child walks past a poster of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII (R) at a mall in Managua April 26, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernizing Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonization on Sunday. REUTERS/Oswaldo Rivas (NICARAGUA - Tags: RELIGION SOCIETY)
(Photo: / )
Nuns take photographs as they wait for a canonisation ceremony to start in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 27, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonisation on Sunday. REUTERS/Max Rossi (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)
(Photo: / )
Pope Francis touches the statue of Virgin Mary as he arrives for the canonisation ceremony of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 27, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonisation on Sunday. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION)
(Photo: / )
Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia (R), King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium (L) await the start of the canonisation ceremony of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican April 27, 2014. Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and called the modernising Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II, who reigned for nearly 27 years before his death in 2005 and whose trips around the world made him the most visible pope in history, will be declared saints by Pope Francis at an unprecedented twin canonisation on Sunday. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini (VATICAN - Tags: RELIGION ROYALS)
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