Last Sunday was a very special day in the Catholic calendar as Pope Francis declared two of his predecessors, John Paul II and John XXIII, saints of the Roman Catholic church in an unprecedented double-canonisation mass in St Peter’s Square.
As a result there are now a number of Longford people who can officially declare themselves as one of the lucky few to have had the privilege of meeting a saint in their lifetimes.
In 1985, Paddy and Cllr Peggy Nolan were part of an invited group from Longford that met the Pontiff. “It was a magical occasion,” Cllr Nolan recalled. “The St Mel’s Boys Choir received an invitation to sing for the Pope at New Year’s Day Mass in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The atmosphere was absolutely electric and some of the young singers remarked that when they shook the Pope’s hand, it was like touching a cloud. Some of those young men are parents themselves now and they are a credit. To be honest with you, the occasion was magical.”
During last week’s ceremony in Rome, the two towering figures of the 20th century church were canonised to great applause from hundreds of thousands of pilgrims gathered in theVatican piazza where Pope Francis added, “We declare and define Blessed John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints and we enrol them among the saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole church”. Later, in his homily, the Argentinian pontiff paid tribute to “the two men of courage” whom he said had “co-operated with the Holy Spirit in renewing and updating the church”. “They were priests, bishops and popes of the 20th century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them,” he continued. “John XXIII, was a pastor to the church, a servant leader who called the Second Vatican Council. John Paul II, meanwhile, was the Pope of the Family.”
Meanwhile, Fiona Mulligan from Corboy met Pope John Paul II when she married Paul in Rome in 2001. “I met and kissed the Pope on the day and it was a very special occasion for me,” she added. “Now I can say that I kissed a saint.” Not wanting a big Irish wedding, Fiona and Paul decided to get married in Rome with 22 of their family and friends alongside them. “It was a fantastic experience; we didn’t want a big Irish wedding so Rome was ideal and then to met the Pope was amazing.”
In 1979 when Pope John Paul II came to Ireland, Fiona was left at home because she was too young to travel, while many of her family members went to see him. “Now I tell them that I got my own back and I have kissed a saint.”