No surprise just delight at news of double canonisations
Reaction: Bishop of Meath Michael Smith expresses delight because both men represented faith
Costa Rica’s Floribeth Mora gives her account of a miracle attributed to the late Pope John Paul II, during a press conference at the Archbishop’s office in San José, Costa Rica, yesterday. Pope Francis approved the woman’s miracle, bringing John Paul to the ranks of saints. Photograph: Enrigue Martinez/AP Photo
The Bishop of Meath, Bishop Michael Smith, is probably the only Irish person to have been in the presence of both Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. Yesterday he was “not surprised” both were to be canonised. He said he was “delighted because of what both represent for the faith.”
As a seminarian he was in St Peter’s Square on October 28th, 1958, when the election of Pope John XXIII was announced.
“John XXIII was in many ways a breath of fresh air. It took three days and 11 counts to elect him. There were only 53 electors then. It was providence when you consider the situation at the time and he was not the flavour with the Curia ,” he said.
‘Shrewdness of saints’
Pope John, he said, “had extraordinary trust in the providence of God. He didn’t want to be pope, because of his age [he was 77 when elected]. He was very spiritual and very shrewd. The shrewdness of saints can be underestimated.”
He himself met Pope John XXIII when he visited the Lateran College. “I knelt behind him. He was very available and visited several churches in Rome.”
He met Pope John Paul II “several times” and recalled the words of Yuri Andropov, former general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. He was head of the KGB in Moscow when John Paul was elected pope in October 1978. “Get me everything you have on him. That man is a danger,” was Andropov’s response. But Bishop Smith felt John Paul’s “greatest witness was in his illness, which was very deliberate”.
He recalled a description of the younger John Paul from February 1965 by the French Dominican theologian Cardinal Yves Congar: “Wojtyla made a very strong impression. His personality is imposing. It radiates a magnetism, an attraction, a certain prophetic force, very calm but indisputable.”
As the man charged with heading the organisation of Pope John Paul’s visit to Ireland in September 1979, Bishop Smith recalled a meeting with him at Castel Gandolfo the previous month, after the killing by the IRA of Lord Mountbatten and 18 British soldiers near Warrenpoint.
“They say he [John Paul] didn’t listen but he did then. He had heard about Mountbatten and Narrow Water but was even more determined to come to Ireland. He agreed not to go to Northern Ireland because of the danger to the people [who would come to meet him].”
As regards detractors who say John Paul should not be canonised because of inaction on clerical child sex abuse and the Vatican Bank, Bishop Smith said: “The bank wasn’t even on his radar. Money just meant nothing to him.”
Where abuse criticisms were concerned, he said: “There was a blockage in the Congregation for the Clergy. They found it very hard to believe [allegations].”
The key to change in came when responsibility was transferred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) was prefect, Bishop Smith said.