By Leslie Knopf
The church is no stranger to the media; unfortunately though, coverage tends toward scandalous stories or legal battles being fought in regards to the HHS mandate or same-sex marriage.
As a Catholic, it is easy to fall into an abyss of pessimism when it comes to the lack of interest mainstream society seems to take in positive matters concerning the faith.
Despite semi-frequent remarks that the church is “irrelevant” to our modern day culture, these opinions began to lose ground with the election of Pope Francis. As millions of people watched their TV screens for an old makeshift chimney to emit white smoke from the rooftop of the Vatican, the ever-present influence of the church became more evident.
The pontificate of Pope Francis has increased this interest as he has regularly made news headlines for spontaneous “selfies” and courtesy house calls. Last month, the canonizations of Sts. John XXIII and John Paul II made it crystal clear that mainstream society is still attentive to the happenings of the church.
But why did these canonizations draw so much attention?
Nearly one million people traveled to Rome to celebrate the life and death of these two men. Two men that at one point had given their simple “yes” to God and his plan for their lives.
The canonization was a grand display of Catholicism. There were no scandals to discuss, but rather stories of inspiration to be told. There were no legal battles fought, but a celebration of spiritual battles won. Pope Francis, the Successor of Peter, declared that two men had reached their final reward, and despite being unapologetically Catholic, the whole world took interest.
These two men drew hundreds of journalists and numerous media agencies to the Eternal City because of their genuine goodness; a goodness that speaks directly to the human heart regardless of religious affiliation.
Casey Sanders is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Louisville and is currently in priestly formation at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. His devotion to St. John Paul II was inspired by (the pontiff’s) “passion and simple love for the people.”
Sanders said that he asks for St. John Paul II’s intercession daily in his journey to the priesthood. He was particularly moved by the actions of the Polish saint while watching a TV program in which a man with no arms played the guitar with his feet.
“St. John Paul II was in the audience,” Sanders said. “Once the man had finished playing, the pope went up to him and kissed his feet. He didn’t have anything particularly profound to say to the man; he moved him by what he did more than any words could ever have done.”
Although he was unable to attend the canonizations himself, Sanders said that many seminarians, along with thousands of other pilgrims, camped out all night on the rough cobblestones for a chance to get into St. Peter’s Square.
“Seeing and hearing the stories of pilgrims reminds me of how alive and well the church is,” he noted. “It is indeed made up of holy men and woman and it’s a great blessing to be a part of it.”
The canonizations served as an inspiration for the universal church. Two men showed us that it was possible to say “yes” to the Lord and stay faithful to that promise, reaching eternal life. Christians recognize that their goodness is rooted in Christ, but the love they demonstrated speaks to all human hearts.
Christ’s church, in a celebration of holiness and virtue, proved that she is anything but irrelevant.
Leslie Knopf is a graduate of Assumption High School and the University of Kentucky and is now studying at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome.