ROME — A crowd of approximately one million spectators crowded St. Peter’s Square in Rome on Sunday for the canonization ceremony for Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, as Pope Francis declared sainthood to the two deceased pontiffs.
The event was stated to have been the largest public Roman Catholic gathering since the funeral of John Paul II in 2005. Pope Francis was joined by his predecessor Pope Benedict at the event, as well as leaders and dignitaries from 122 nations worldwide.
As part of the rites, Francis was presented with relics from both of the two men–a vial of blood belonging to John Paul II and a fleck of skin removed from the body of John XXIII during his beatification. He kissed each container as they were received and placed at the altar. Tapestries were also hung in the square that bore the images of the popes.
“We declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints and we enroll them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church,” Francis declared in reading his prepared decree.
According to Catholic tradition, candidates for sainthood must have been deceased for at least five years and must be believed to be responsible for performing at least two miracles since their death. As John XXIII is attributed by the Vatican as purportedly performing a single miracle, Francis waived the second requirement for the declaration of his sainthood. Adele Labianca claims that after relics from John XXIII were placed on the abdomen of Neapolitan nun Caterina Capitani, the deceased pope appeared to her in a vision and healed the nun of her gastric hemorrhaging.
“Pope John told me, ‘The wound is healed,'” she said in a press conference on Thursday before the ceremony.
Pope John Paul II is credited with healing a French nun of Parkinson’s Disease, and Floribeth Mora Diaz from Costa Rica claims that his image spoke to her out of a magazine and healed her of a brain aneurysm.
“I heard his voice say to me, ‘Get up and don’t be afraid,’” she explained at the conference, noting that she had fallen asleep holding a magazine that contained John Paul II’s photograph. “I went to my husband in the kitchen and told him I was cured. I realized little by little the illness had been taken away.”
However, some are highly speculative about the claims, and are concerned about the unbiblical nature of canonization itself. Mike Gendron of Proclaiming the Gospel Ministries in Plano, Texas told Christian News Network that the declaration of John Paul II and John XXIII as saints is a violation of Scripture.
“Clearly, the canonization concept is not biblical, in fact, as with many Catholic traditions it nullifies and opposes the Word of God,” he said. “Everyone who has been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ is a saint (1 Cor. 12:13). Scripture has 68 references to ‘saints’ and many of the epistles to the churches were addressed to the saints. Every born again Christian is a saint by virtue of their oneness with Christ.”
Gendron, a former Roman Catholic who now evangelizes those in the Catholic Church, also took issue with aspects of Sunday’s ceremony, including the presentation of blood and skin to Pope Francis. He stated that such practices are rooted in paganism.
“According to the Word of God, the veneration and consultation of the dead are prohibited in Scripture (Deuteronomy 18:10-12). Furthermore, anyone who came into contact with a dead person or a grave was considered unclean and could not take part in worship (Numbers 19:16; Leviticus 21:1),” he explained. “Yet, as part of the canonization ceremony, relics of each of the new saints were presented to Pope Francis. … The worship of the dead is practiced and commanded in Catholicism. Not only in the veneration of so-called ‘saints,’ but every altar must have a relic of a dead saint. This is pagan necromancy, which the Bible strictly forbids.”
As Catholics worldwide will now be expected to call out to John Paul II and John XXIII to intercede on their behalf due to their sainthood, Gendron stated that such a concept is likewise concerning.
“Catholicism teaches that Catholics are to pray to the saints because they can be helped by the prayers of the saints. This of course violates Scripture,” he outlined. “Nowhere in the Bible do we see any God-fearing man praying to anyone other than almighty God.”
“‘For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,'” Gendron said, quoting 1 Timothy 2:5.