Death of Saint Peter Canisius, Dutch Jesuit priest and Doctor of the Church. For more on this saint, see TODAY'S LITURGY.
The fact the Vatican has officially approved a miracle attributed to the intercession of Padre Pio, the famous Capuchin and stigmatist who died in 1968, opens the way for the monk's beatification, which is expected for May 1999.
In San Giovanni Rotondo, where the capuchin priest is buried, the people expressed their great joy and gratitude for the future beatification of the venerable father. Next week there will be a solemn Mass to celebrate the event. A great number of Catholics is expected to pilgrim to this sanctuary, which every year attracts thousands of people from different parts of the world.
The miracle approved by the Holy See is that of an Italian woman stricken with a ruptured lymphatic vessel, who before her operation prayed asking the intercession of Padre Pio. The night before the operation, she dreamt of the capuchin father, who told her she would be healed. The next day, to the surprise of everyone, the operation had to be suspended, since the woman was completely healed. This was regarded as "scientifically inexplicable" by a team of doctors studying the case earlier this year for the process of beatification.
Once the decree recognizing that miracle is formally promulgated, preparations for the beatification ceremony will begin immediately. Because of the worldwide veneration of Padre Pio, and the expectation that many thousands of pilgrims would want to participate in the ceremony, the date for the beatification will probably be announced immediately after the promulgation of the decree. Vatican sources indicate that the date will be set late in May 1999.
The Vatican is bracing for a crowd of perhaps 250,000 people for the beatification ceremonies. Similarly huge groups of pilgrims have come to Rome for the canonization of St. Maximilien Kolbe in October 1982 and the beatification of Msgr. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, in May 1992.
The Vatican did not announce the Pope's original schedule for the day, so it is not generally known which meetings have been canceled. It is understood that the Holy Father would have met with Ahmed Esmat Abdel Meguid, the secretary general of the Arab League, who instead conferred privately with Cardinal Angelo Sodano.
The next scheduled public appearance for Pope John Paul II was scheduled for Sunday, December 19, when he would address his usual Angelus audience. If he was sufficiently recovered from the flu by Sunday, the Pope was expected to deliver some remarks about the bombing in Iraq.
The announcement of the Pope's illness caught reporters in Rome by surprise. He showed no particular signs of illness or fatigue during his public appearances on Thursday, when he met with a group of new ambassadors and later with the heads of the Roman Curia.
However, the Pope's doctors may be taking extra precautions to combat the flu immediately, in view of the heavy schedule set for the Pontiff during Christmas celebrations. In 1995, illness forced the Holy Father to abandon his plan to celebrate Mass during the day of Christmas (after having presided at midnight Mass in St. Peter's Basilica), and to spend several minutes resting to recover his strength before delivering the traditional Urbi et Orbi blessing after his Christmas message.
Because of his illness, for the first time during his pontificate, Pope John Paul II will not set aside a special time for meeting with his Polish countrymen on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day this year.
However, while that announcement will come as a disappointment to the Polish community in Rome, that disappointment may soon be eased by the announcement of another papal trip to his native land, according to Vatican sources. According to those sources, the preparations for a trip by Pope John Paul II to Poland are already well underway, and the public announcement could come at the beginning of 1999. The sources expect a trip of 10-12 days, probably beginning on June 5, and including stops in several Polish cities. During the trip the Pontiff will preside at ceremonies marking the millennium of the canonization of St. Adalbert, the patron of the country.
In past years, the Pope has always met with members of the Polish community in Rome on either Christmas Eve or the evening of Christmas Day. But this year-- apparently in an effort to conserve his energy-- the Vatican has not scheduled such an encounter. The Pope is expected to salute his countrymen-- among others-- during his public audience on Wednesday, December 23.
In relation to the sacrament of Penance, Archbishop Chaput highlighted the need to "actively cultivate a healthy, regular devotion to the Sacrament of Reconciliation." "It's important to prepare well for confession with a prayerful, thorough examination of conscience, because by remembering and acknowledging our sins, we conduct a kind of personal "reality check." We see honestly who we are; we understand our guilt and our need for forgiveness based on the objective evidence of our sins; and through this, God turns us toward repentance and His reconciling love. Reconciliation is what the sacrament brings about. Its fruit is joy, not fear," he remarked.
Answering some questions about the authority of the Church, the Archbishop of Denver stated that her authority comes from the mandate of Jesus and from the Holy Spirit. "That's more than enough to warrant our trust when it comes to matters of faith and morals. We don't invent truth. It exists whether we find it convenient or not." He added as well that "a healthy conscience will seek the truth and receive it eagerly once found. But because we're sinners, our reason and will are wounded. Our ability to see the truth is often dimmed. We need help, which is why a right conscience is never autonomous. It grows and matures in community, educated by others who pass along the truth."
Israeli Parliament speaker Dan Tichon told reporters that Polish government officials were sympathetic to his country's demands. "Polish officials very sharply criticized those who erected the crosses. This is a controversy and misunderstanding which fringes on anti-Semitism," he said. Polish Catholics began erecting hundreds of crosses in a field near the death camp earlier this year in protest of plans to remove a cross erected at the spot where Pope John Paul II prayed in 1979. The Catholic groups also said they wanted to remember the thousands of Catholics who were also killed by the Nazis.
Jewish groups want to the crosses removed because they say the presence of religious symbols at the site of so many Jewish deaths is an affront to their memory. The Polish government and the country's Catholic bishops said they want to remove all of the crosses except for the papal cross. But Tichon indicated the even the papal cross is a source of disagreement. "We are against all the crosses erected at the site, but we hope that in the first stage all but the big one will be removed," Tichon said. "There will still be time to talk about the large cross."