Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

schmitz-129Msgr. Gerard Schmitz, vicar for priests for the Hartford Archdiocese, stands outside St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome May 1.(Photo submitted)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – "John Paul II is blessed because of his faith – a strong, generous and apostolic faith," Pope Benedict XVI said May 1 just minutes after formally beatifying his predecessor.

"I’m still riding high," said Msgr. Gerard G. Schmitz, vicar for priests in the Archdiocese of Hartford and rector of St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield. Msgr. Schmitz attended the beatification Mass in St. Peter’s Square after spending Holy Week in Rome.

"By Friday [April 29], the square was already jammed with people," Msgr. Schmitz said. "On Saturday, the crowds got even heavier and heavier. You would see groups of people just going through the city, waving flags of their countries and singing."

On Saturday night, he said, "You would see groups, throngs of young people, from all over the world but primarily from Poland, with backpacks and camping out at nighttime."

Italian police said that for the Mass more than 1 million people were gathered in and around the Vatican and in front of large video screens in several parts of the city.

Pope Benedict ended his homily at the Mass sharing his own personal story.

"I would like to thank God for the gift of having worked for many years with Blessed Pope John Paul II," he said.

As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1982 until his election in 2005, Pope Benedict said he worked at the Pope’s side "and came to revere him."

"His example of prayer continually impressed and edified me: he remained deeply united to God even amid the many demands of his ministry," the Pope said.

"Today his name is added to the host of those whom he proclaimed saints and blesseds during the almost 27 years of his pontificate," the Pope said in his homily.

Pope John Paul during his pontificate beatified 1,338 people and canonized 482 – more than all of his predecessors combined. The beatification of Pope John Paul just six years and a month after his death in 2005 was the fastest beatification in some 500 years.

Pope Benedict said that even at the moment of his death people "perceived the fragrance of his sanctity and in any number of ways God’s people showed their veneration for him. For this reason, with all due respect for the Church’s canonical norms, I wanted his Cause of beatification to move forward with reasonable haste."

After the Mass, Pope Benedict went into St. Peter’s Basilica and knelt in prayer for four minutes before Blessed John Paul’s casket, which was set in front of the main altar. After the Pope left, the concelebrating cardinals filed up to the wooden casket, touching it lightly and kissing it.

Eventually, the Vatican opened the basilica to the general public and planned to keep it open either until the faithful stopped coming to pay their respects or until preparations had to be made for the official Mass of thanksgiving for the beatification May 2.

Thousands of people spent a chilly, damp night camped out near the Vatican in an attempt to find a place in St. Peter’s Square when the gates were scheduled to open at 5:30 a.m. for the 10 a.m. Mass. The crowds were so large that police began letting people in at 2 a.m., according to news reports.

"We got there about 8 in the morning," Msgr. Schmitz said. "It was a challenge to get through." He said the normally 10-minute walk from North American College, where he stayed, to St. Peter’s Square took about a half hour, even with all the credentials he carried.

Speaking briefly in Polish in his homily, Pope Benedict said of his predecessor: "By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel.

"In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty," the Pope said.

Pope Benedict read the formula of beatification at the beginning of the liturgy after Cardinal Agostino Vallini, papal vicar for Rome, petitioned the Pope by saying, "I humbly ask Your Holiness to inscribe the venerable servant of God John Paul II, Pope, among the number of blesseds."

The Pope responded by saying that after consulting many bishops and members of the faithful and after having the Congregation for Saints’ Causes study the matter, "the venerable servant of God, John Paul II, Pope, henceforth will be called blessed" and his feast will be Oct. 22, the anniversary of the inauguration of his pontificate in 1978.

The crowds burst into sustained applause, many people cried and brass players provided a fanfare as soon as the Pope finished reading the proclamation.

"He declares him blessed, and with that there was just an uproar," Msgr. Schmitz said. "You were just literally drawn up into the excitement of the moment. You could feel the sense of joy and exhilaration right in the midst of that moment."


A local report by the Transcript was included in this CNS story.>