From where Luke Doyle stood preparing to watch two popes be pronounced saints, even the art and architecture of Rome seemed to celebrate the moment.
Heading out early on the morning of April 27, the seminarian in his second year of theology at the Pontifical North American College in Rome joined hundreds of thousands of people on the Via della Conciliazione outside the packed St. Peter’s Square.
He couldn’t help but think what the Italian architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini must have envisioned as he designed the colonnade that extends from St. Peter’s Basilica around St. Peter’s Square.
“On top of the colonnade are the saints of the church, looking down on the people of God gathered below, encouraging us by their examples and praying for us as we strive to enter their ranks in heaven one day,” said Doyle. “We had gathered below them to celebrate the canonization of two of their number!”
Both of those newly canonized saints — St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II — have long been heroes to many, including seminarian Agustin Martinez, also in his second year of theology at the Pontifical North American College.
He and Doyle both felt blessed to be in Rome to celebrate their canonizations.
“I grew up listening to stories about Pope John XXIII,” said Martinez, noting that the cardinals who elected him envisioned that he would be a “transitional pope” who would not do very much.
“But as Pope Francis mentioned in his homily today, he was a docile pastor who was led by the Holy Spirit,” said Martinez.
“He was a simple man, with a simple heart. The Italians call him ‘il Papa buono’ (‘the good pope’) because he was very compassionate and close to the people. He used to visit a children’s hospital called Bambino Gesù every year during Christmas and bring the kids presents. He also visited prisoners at the different jails in town.”
The people of Italy have a special devotion to and a great love for St. John XXIII, added Doyle.
“John XXIII is the pope who called the Second Vatican Council, which helped the church further develop into how we know her today,” said Doyle. “He has played a great role in the development of my faith, not just because of the fact that he called Vatican II, but also because of his personal witness of how he embraced all peoples with a desire to lead them to Jesus.”
As a pope, he exemplified what it means to be humble before God.
“John XXIII would famously end every day of his papacy in prayer, reminding both God and himself who was really in charge. . . . After he finished bringing the troubles and hardships of the people of the world to God in prayer, [he would finish with], ‘Well, it’s your church, Lord. I’m off to bed!’”
‘Be not afraid’
Pope John Paul II connected with the lives of many younger generations, including both Martinez and Doyle.
Doyle described the times during which St. John Paul II lived as some of the darkest, as Nazi and communist regimes came to power and fell in Eastern Europe.
Still, he was never without joy, and Doyle saw in him a passion for sports and travel as well as Mary and the faith.
“Throughout his papacy, he challenged the world to never be content with mediocrity, to never lose sight of the truths of who we are and how we have been made to live and to love, and to not be afraid,” said Doyle. “His heroic example of joy and of love inspired me to want to be a priest like him, and his constant admonition — ‘Be not afraid!’ — is what helped me find the courage to open myself to the voice of Jesus and to follow him with my life.”
Doyle feels blessed to study for the priesthood in the same classrooms as Pope John Paul II once did, and to be taught by some of his friends and former students.
Martinez believes St. John Paul II led people to God through the witness of his life, and he has also greatly influenced Martinez’s own vocation.
Growing up in Mexico, he knew the pope had a special affection for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
“People in Mexico loved him very much. I remember that every time he left Mexico after his apostolic visits, people went out of their homes with little mirrors and pointed them up to the sky, so that he could see all the little lights from his plane,” said Martinez.
“I remember that when he died, people went out of their homes with mirrors in their hands and pointed them up to heaven to say goodbye to him, and that was a moment that I have treasured through my years in [the] seminary.”