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A thankful Church, a joyful ceremony

JIM CASSIDY reports from the Canonisations, launching an appeal to help subsidise Scottish WYD pilgrims for Kraków 2016

In the darkness of the streets leading up to St Peter’s it had been difficult to see the colours but as the dawn broke it was a universal rainbow that dazzled your eye. Greens, blues, yellows brought life to a damp dank morning in St Peter’s Square.

Argentina, Brazil, Croatia and Dominica… an A to Z of the nations of the world and thankfully the saltire to the fore.

The flags of countries that had once been at war flew side by side, countries where there are still tensions like Ukraine fluttering proudly.

The sons and daughters of generations who had spilled blood over land, power and beliefs were united in tribute to these two men of peace and love. One was the Pope of my childhood, a warm man who gave us the Second Vatican Council and in reality was the first pontiff to talk with the people, not down to the people. The other the Pope who helped bring down political and idiological walls and inspired a generation.

The Pope of my early spring and the Pope of my autumn years.


The stones of Via della Conciliazione which runs directly into St Peter’s Square have witnessed joy, happiness, tears and sorrow, wars, strife and revolution. Kings and queens through the centuries have travelled on these stones as have pilgrims through the mists of time.

The last time I had slept on their unyeilding but polished surface my bones were nine years younger and more forgiving.

In 2005 it was the flags of Poland that were in the assendency, they had come in their thousands to attend the funeral of one of their own. Then their dark heavy coats and the lack of fashion logos reminded you that Poland was an impoverished land. Many had old battered suitcases some tied with string, filled with bread, their sustenance for their pilgrimage.

Karl Wojtyla gave them freedom, pride and hope and the extended European Union has offered them financial, social and economic hope. But on Sunday it was plain that Poland’s real strength and wealth is its people and their faith.

The young man who emerged from the sleeping bag near me epitomised the spirit of Poland. He came, like Karol Wojtyla, from outside Krakow and while Karol Wojtyla’s journey had taken many years this young man’s had seemed just as long.

In a sometimes painfully slow train he had spent hour after hour through Czechoslovakia, Austria, skirting Germany and into northern Italy.

“Most of us have sore throats. There wasn’t a lot of water and there was so much singing. When we crossed into Italy it was dark but someone at the front started to sing and carriage-by-carriage it spread throughout the train. Everyone was wakened, many thought it was Rome but there was still hours to go.

“John Paul has always been a Saint in our hearts, but today the world knows he is a Saint.”

And the world was there to witness it.

I remenber at Saint John Paul’s funeral several signs calling for “Santo Subito” (Saint soon) and as the crowd took up the chant I remember thinking that our Church has all the nimbleness of a juggernaut trying a 33 point turn in a country lane when it comes to sainthood.

Sometimes, it’s just great to be wrong!


From the small village of Sotto Il Monte just west of Bergamo and throughout Italy they came to rejoice at the Canonisation of Pope John XXVI, “Il Papa Buono” (the good pope) and the son of a farmer.

Beside my wife and I was a French nun and her parents from Britanny and a group of youngsters from Nimmes in southern France, a party from Nova Scotia and perhaps most poignantly of all a group from trouble torn Ukraine. When we told them churches in Scotland were praying for them in their time of trouble, one of the nuns in the party told the others.

The young nun, the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine wrapped round her habit said: “Sometimes over the last few months we have felt alone, so it is great to know others care about our plight. We have faith; our prayers and your prayers will keep us safe.”

The nun from Britanny told me of a friend, Sr Marie Simon-Pierre, who was to take part in the service.

Sr Marie Simon-Pierre diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2001 when she was just 40 years old was miraculously cured of the disease on June 2, 2005, after a night of prayer to the Polish pontiff, who had died two months earlier.

Offering her petition Sister Marie Simon Pierre, from the Congregation of the Little Sisters of Catholic Motherhood implored:

“Father, through the prayers of saint John Paul II, continue to inspire a passionate commitment to human dignity among men and women of culture, science and government.”

Even at 4am as we crossed the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele from our hotel the sound of the crowd singing Ave Maria drowned out the sound of the Tiber below. There are just over 250 countries in the world and it seemed all were represented. The crush of bodies was at times frightening, only through devine intervention, or perhaps on this day of days through the Divine Word, there were no accidents.


Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli and Karol Josef Wojtyla were born 570 miles and 39 years apart, but on Sunday they were united, recognised as Saints in heaven.

Catholics in Scotland, and throughout the world, have felt battered and bruised by events in recent times but the events over the weekend left me with renewed confidence.

The number of young people full of happiness, of hope and of faith were there for all to see. From the leaving class of John Paul Academy in Glasgow who did themselves, their parents and their school proud with their enthusiasm, to the groups from throughout Europe and beyond who were inspired by these two great saints and our new Pope Frances. One of the greatest gifts St John Paul gave us is World Youth Day. In 2016 it will take place in Krakow in his native Poland. What greater tribute to this new Saint than the Catholic Church in Scotland starting now to mobilise interest amongst our Scottish youth and start raising funds to help facilitate travel for Scotland’s youth.

Our children are our Church’s tomorrow; with their faith we should not fear the future, we should embrace it.


— Jim Cassidy is a former newspaper editor and is now managing director of Prima Media.


Kraków 2016 World Youth Day. Jim Cassidy’s idea to raise funds to help Scottish youth travel to World Youth Day in Krakov, Poland, in 2016 in honour of the newly Canonised Sts John Paul II (who founded WYD) and John XXII has prompted the SCO to launch an appeal fund. Anyone wishing to support this cause can send their donation to The Scottish Catholic Observer Appeal Account, 19 Waterloo Street, Glasgow, G2 6BT marked WYD 16. The SCO will work with the Church and its associated youth ministries to make sure the funds go to helping young pilgrims get to Poland for the celebrations.


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