John Paul 'to be more than a saint'


AN IRISH Catholic bishop has predicted that Pope John Paul II, who arrived in Ireland 30 years ago today, will most likely have a higher status than sainthood in the Catholic Church.

The Bishop of Meath, Most Rev Michael Smith, who was centrally involved in organising the papal visit, said he would not be surprised if Pope John Paul II was made a Doctor of the Church.

This, he felt, would be due to the late pope’s teachings on human sexuality but more particularly those on the dignity of the human person.

Currently just 33 of the many thousands of saints in the Catholic Church are designated Doctors of the Church. These are men and women who have, as Bishop Smith said, “been identified as having made an extraordinary contribution to the teaching of the church and to the interpretation of the words of Christ, and to elaboration of the whole understanding of the church.”

Among Doctors of the Church are St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, St Francis de Sales, St John of the Cross, St Anthony of Padua, St Teresa of Ávila, St Catherine of Siena and St Thérèse of Lisieux. As Bishop Smith explained, St Thérèse was elevated because she wrote “so deeply on God as love, a message we want to hear in our own country and didn’t hear enough in the past.”

He also suspected Pope Benedict might, in time, become a Doctor of the Church. “In this generation we are very blessed to have had two popes who have made an enormous contribution to church teaching and church belief.”

Asked about the another papal visit, he said: “I don’t think any pope can come to Ireland unless the North, Northern Ireland, is the focus of that visit.” But at 82 the subject of a visit would be “fairly daunting for him”, he said.

He said it was a surprise when Pope John Paul agreed in June 1979 to visit Ireland. It was then decided he would visit all four provinces and, due to the tight timeframe, that each centre to be visited would do its own organisation. It meant many last-minute changes. The decision to have him visit two centres in Connacht was because the site at Knock was “very contained”, so a special youth Mass was planned for Galway.

Pope John Paul himself remained determined to visit Northern Ireland even after the murder of Lord Mountbatten and 18 British soldiers at Warrenpoint in August of that year. But he was prevailed upon by Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich not to do so as, while there was no threat to his own personal safety, the same could not be guaranteed for the people who would wish to see him.

The bishop did not believe Pope John Paul would be surprised at the Ireland of today. In his talk at Limerick he had spoken of the challenges Ireland faced, he said. In general, and while the visit went well, Bishop Smith said he was happy “to see him [the pope] on the plane at Shannon.”

At the papal cross in Drogheda last Sunday Cardinal Seán Brady noted how Pope John Paul had “made a very special appeal to all who, he said, are called to the noble vocation of politics. He urged them to have courage and to face up to their responsibilities”.

The cardinal continued: “The challenge is ever timely and relevant not just for politicians, for all leaders. The cause of peace, reconciliation and justice will always require the courage to adopt policies that promote the genuine common good.”

To commemorate the visit, includes a video interview with Bishop Smith, then secretary to the committee of Irish bishops supervising the 1979 papal visit.