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The television version of Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall is the latest account to challenge St Thomas More’s reputation as a courageous defender of the rights of conscience. Was he, in truth, a liberal icon, a religious fanatic or something in between?
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The Church in the World
Five million pilgrims are expected in Rome tomorrow for the canonisation of two popes, John XXIII and John Paul II.
Equally historic is the likelihood that two living popes will celebrate at the ceremony, Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Benedict XVI has lived a secluded existence within the Vatican walls since he stepped down in February 2013, but he is widely expected to attend the canonisation of the man who named him as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1981, and whom he served in that capacity until John Paul II’s death in 2005. Joseph Ratzinger was also a peritus at the Second Vatican Council, called by Pope John XXIII in 1962.
Pope John Paul’s cause for sainthood was evident at his funeral, with banners proclaiming “Santo Subito” or “Sainthood Now”.
Normally, two miracles attributed to the deceased need to be verified. The first for John Paul II was a French nun, said to be cured of Parkinson’s. The second was a Costa Rican woman, cured of a brain aneurism.
In the sainthood of Pope John XXIII, the process has been different. The Church attributes only one miracle to his intercession but Pope Francis made an exception. John XXIII, often referred to as “Good Pope John”, through his calling of the council changed the way the Church relates to the world and other religions.
Three recent Polish presidents will attend the ceremony today on what Polish media are calling “a special day for the whole of Poland”. The current president, Bronislaw Komorowski, invited his predecessors, Lech Walesa and Aleksander Kwasniewski, to join him for the canonisation of the most prominent Pole in modern times. Mr Walesa worked closely with John Paul II during the years leading to the collapse of Communism in 1989.
The canonisation of Karol Wojtyla – the first Polish pope and the first non-Italian one for 400 years – will become a nationwide celebration with a huge open-air Mass in Wojtyla’s former archdiocese of Krakow and in many other cities across Poland.
A newly renovated and re-opened museum in his hometown, Wadowice, displays documents of John Paul’s life from his youth as the son of an army officer, to priesthood and through the 26-year papacy that led to sainthood. It also includes the Browning HP 9mm handgun, which a Turkish terrorist, Mehmet Ali Agca, used in attempting to assassinate him in the Vatican on 13 May 1981. Beside the gun is a photo of the Pope meeting Agca in prison to offer forgiveness.
The President-elect of El Salvador, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, was among those due to be in Rome for the canonisations. On Friday he was to be received in an audience with Pope Francis, raising speculation that an announcement on the beatification of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the former Archbishop of San Salvador who was murdered in 1980, could be imminent.
(See pages 8-17.)
(You can watch full coverage and live video of the canonisations at www.thetablet.co.uk)