Alle-Kiski Valley Catholics share in canonization of newest saints
Carol Schwartz stood an arm's length away from Pope John Paul II as his car inched through a huge crowd in Vatican City.
It was April 1, 1998 — almost seven years to the day before he died. Although the Vatican had yet to confirm that John Paul II had Parkinson's disease, Schwartz said its effects had taken a distinct toll on the Polish pontiff.
But on this day, the man venerated by many as one of the most influential leaders of the Roman Catholic Church exuded a radiance unlike anything she said she'd ever witnessed.
“I only took one picture, because I couldn't take my eyes off him,” said Schwartz, 67, of Lower Burrell, a longtime parishioner of St. Margaret Mary Church. “I just broke down and cried. I knew right then that I had just looked into the eyes of a saint.”
Schwartz's vision materialized on Sunday when Pope Francis canonized former pontiffs John Paul II and John XXIII in an unprecedented dual ceremony. About 800,000 people gathered in the area around St. Peter's Square to witness the two men being elevated into sainthood.
In Lower Burrell, a crowd of about 50 amassed at St. Margaret Mary Church to view an afternoon replay of the ceremony and share their feelings on the former pontiffs.
It was the final installation of a four-part series put together by the Rev. Daniel Ulishney, who came to St. Margaret Mary in June as the regional parochial vicar. The series, he said, focused on the lives, papacies and canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII while bringing together parishioners from St. Margaret Mary and the three New Kensington churches he serves.
“This series gives the people in the area an opportunity to connect with one another and encounter our new saints,” said Ulishney, 27. “These two popes were very human. People made very strong connections with them. They still remember them in life, and I think that makes it even more personal on this important day in the Catholic Church.”
The events preceding Sunday's screening featured readings of the popes' personal lives, faith and service to the church. Each event, Ulishney said, was designed to reflect the history and the culture of the hosting parish.
The ceremony at St. Mary of Czestochowa Church in New Kensington, for instance, focused largely on the life of John Paul II to reflect the large Polish population within its congregation.
The former pontiff, born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, experienced the Nazi occupation of his native country before becoming the first non-Italian pope in more than four centuries. He is largely credited with helping the overthrow of the communist regime in Poland, which contributed to the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Since his 2005 death, conservative Catholics have revered him for his devotion to a more rigid Catholicism than what was practiced under John XXIII.
Ulishney's series touched on the life of John XXIII this year at Mt. St. Peter Parish, also in New Kensington. That church was chosen, according to Ulishney, because a former pastor there was well-acquainted with John XXIII before his death in the 1960s.
John XXIII, who was born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli in 1881 at Sotto il Monte, Italy, was elected pope in 1958. He cemented his legacy a year later by creating the Second Vatican Council, which would reconsider church practices in response to cultural changes.
Between 1962 and 1965, the council established more liberal positions concerning education, the media and other Christian denominations. Perhaps most notably, the council allowed for languages other than Latin to be used during Mass.
Bill Cogley, 59, of Allegheny Township said he remembers being an altar boy at St. Mary Church in Freeport when his pastor started using English through the entire service.
“That was big for me,” he said at the screening in Lower Burrell. “I finally knew everything that he was saying, and I took a lot more away from Mass that way.”
Cogley, who remains a parishioner at St. Mary's and teaches eighth-grade religious studies there, said he also is fond of John Paul II.
In 1993, he was one of about 400,000 people to see the pope speak at a religious convention in Denver. He was so far away, he said, that he “could only make out a small figure in white robes.”
“But it was still very unique and meaningful,” he said. “You just felt like you were in the presence of something special. You can't really explain it.
“Both of these guys meant so much to the Church. It's a day of great joy for us.”
Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or firstname.lastname@example.org.