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Sun April 24, 2011
Religion

Pope's Easter Message A Prelude To Beatification

At the Vatican Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI focused his Easter message on the many conflicts and natural disasters that have caused suffering and destruction throughout the world. The Pope's Easter Mass was the culmination of Holy Week, but the Vatican will still be busy in the coming days, preparing for next week's beatification of Pope John Paul II.

In his Easter message, the pope appealed for diplomacy and dialogue take the place of weapons in Libya and people be given access to humanitarian aid. St. Peter's Square was resplendent as Benedict spoke, outfitted in peach blossoms, azaleas and other bright spring flowers.

The pope also called for peaceful coexistence among peoples of the Ivory Coast, rocked by violence for months. For Japan, he urged conciliation and hope in the aftermath of the recent earthquake and tsunami.

Yet the festivities aren't over, as NPR's Sylvia Poggioli tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen. Next week, the pope will beatify his predecessor, John Paul II — one of the steps leading to sainthood in the Catholic Church.

"It's expected to be the biggest event since John Paul's funeral six years ago," Poggioli says. The Vatican is expecting as many as a million pilgrims for the celebration. Posters with the smiling face of the Polish-born pope are everywhere, on walls and buses, and commemorative souvenirs are for sale throughout the city.

"Security, of course, will be very high," Poggioli says, "but the mood is already very festive."

Paul was one of the longest-serving popes in history as well as one of the major figures of the 20th century. He was the first non-Italian pope since the Renaissance, and considered a man of great faith.

A pope from the communist East, he's seen as one of the major catalysts of the fall of communism in Europe. Another achievement, Poggioli adds, was taking the seat of Catholicism out of Rome and traveling throughout the world as a spiritual pastor.

Paul also championed ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, opening up channels of cooperation with other religions — including Islam. He had a particular feeling for the young, who flocked to his masses as if they were rock concerts, and he made history by formally apologizing for the sins of Catholicism over the centuries.

Even so, questions are being raised over the unprecedented speed of Paul's beatification process – said to be the fastest on record. Benedict suspended the traditional 5-year waiting period and, Poggioli adds, this is the first time in a thousand years that a pope has beatified his own predecessor.

Leading church historian Michael Walsh has pointed out that most of the people involved in the process — including Benedict himself — owe their jobs in some way to Paul. Thus, Walsh says, they can't be seen as impartial.

But the strongest criticism concerns Paul's handling of clerical sex abuse, the biggest scandal of the Catholic Church in centuries. Many of the cases that have come to light occurred on John Paul's watch, and little or nothing was done to punish abusive priests.

Even more controversial was the late pope's benevolent attitude toward the order of the Legionaries of Christ. Its founder, Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, was accused of sex abuse by many young men, but continued to enjoy Paul's favor.

The pope saw the wealthy religious order as a model of orthodoxy. "Many Vatican watchers say this was John Paul's greatest failure," Poggioli says. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of singing)

HANSEN: At the Vatican today, Pope Benedict XVI focused his Easter message on the many conflicts and natural disasters that have caused suffering and destruction throughout the world. The Pope's Easter mass was the culmination of Holy Week. but the Vatican will still be busy in the coming days, preparing for next week's beatification of Pope John Paul II. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is on the line from Rome. Good morning, Sylvia.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Good morning, Liane.

HANSEN: Elaborate on the Pope's message this year.

POGGIOLI: Well, along with rejoicing on the day that marks the resurrection of Christ, which is the most important date on the Catholic calendar, the pope also focused on current events. He appealed that in Libya, diplomacy and dialogue take the place of weapons and people be given access to humanitarian aid. He also called for peaceful coexistence among the peoples of the Ivory Coast - it's been rocked by violence for months. And he urged consolation and hope in Japan in the aftermath of the recent earthquake and tsunami.

And as a backdrop to the ceremony, St. Peter's Square was really resplendent with magnificent displays of brightly-colored spring flowers - peach blossoms, azaleas and many others.

HANSEN: And the week goes on, the Pope will beatify his predecessor John Paul II next week. How is Rome getting ready for that event?

POGGIOLI: Well, it's expected to be the biggest event since John Paul's funeral six years ago. The Vatican is expecting perhaps as many as a million pilgrims. Posters with the smiling face of the Polish-born pope are everywhere - on walls and on buses - and there are hundreds of gadgets and souvenirs on sale. Security, of course, will be very high but the mood is already very festive.

HANSEN: John Paul II was one of the longest serving popes in history. What message is being sent about his beatification?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, he was one of the major figures of the 20th century. He was the first non-Italian pope since the Renaissance and he was a man of great faith. A pope from the communist east, he's seen as one of the major catalysts of the fall of communism in Europe. Another achievement was taking the seat of Catholicism out of Rome and traveling throughout the world as a spiritual pastor.

He also championed ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and he opened up channels of cooperation with other religions, including Islam. He had a particular feeling for the young, who flocked to his masses as if they were rock concerts, and he made history by formally apologizing for the sins of Catholicism over the centuries.

HANSEN: But, Sylvia, aren't there questions being raised over the unprecedented speed of John Paul's beatification process?

POGGIOLI: Yes. It's said to be the fastest on record. And Pope Benedict suspended the traditional five-year waiting period. And this is the first time in a thousand years that a pope has beatified his own predecessor.

One leading church historian, Michael Walsh, has pointed out that most of the people involved in the process, including the current pope, owe their jobs in some way to John Paul, and so he says they can't be seen as impartial.

The strongest criticism concerns John Paul's handling of clerical sex abuse, the biggest scandal in the Catholic Church in centuries. Many of the cases that have come to light occurred on John Paul's watch and little or nothing was done to punish abusive priests.

Even more controversial was the late pope's benevolent attitude toward the Order of the Legionaries of Christ. The founder, the Mexican priest Marcial Maciel Degollado, was accused of sex abuse by many young men but he continued to enjoy John Paul's favor. The pope saw the wealthy religious order as a model of orthodoxy. Many Vatican watchers say this was John Paul's greatest failure.

HANSEN: And finally and briefly, Sylvia, if there are these unresolved issues about John Paul II's papacy, why did Benedict speed up the beatification?

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, with so many Catholics abandoning the church, especially in Europe, the Vatican hopes this beatification will restore luster to this church and bring back the faithful.

HANSEN: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome. Thank you, Sylvia. Happy Easter.

POGGIOLI: Thank you, Liane. Happy Easter to you too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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