ROME — Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore is one of many U.S. bishops in Rome this weekend for the canonizations of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II.
I asked him today what the two new saints teach him as a priest and bishop.
“John XXIII, who became the Holy Father when I was just a child, struck me even then as a man of great humility and joy,” he said. “And in spite of all the tremendous things he did in his life as a priest and bishop, he remained simple, close to God, a pilgrim, joyful.”
Although he was only 11 when Blessed John opened the Second Vatican Council, the archbishop said early on he understood that the pope “wanted to make the church’s teaching and spirituality accessible to ordinary Catholics.”
He also said Blessed John “had a lot to do with my openness to becoming a priest.”
Ordained in 1977, the year before Blessed John Paul was elected, and named an auxiliary bishop in 1995 by Pope John Paul, the archbishop’s contact with him was much more “up close and personal.”
The big lesson he learned from Pope John Paul is one word, “prayer.”
“Everything he said and did and taught passed through his life of contemplative prayer — some would even say mystical prayer,” the archbishop said. His teaching about the family, about the sacredness of human life, about the authentic interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, about the need for a “new evangelization” — “all of that passed through the prism of his prayer,” the archbishop said.
“That is why young people trusted him: they understood that not only was he fatherly and strong and smart and able to speak their language, but they trusted him because they understood instinctively he was holy,” Archbishop Lori said. “So what I take from him is there are no shortcuts; if I want to be halfway decent as a priest or a bishop, I have to pray, I have to run what I am going to do and what I am going to say through the prism of my prayer.”
I also asked the archbishop what he hoped his faithful in the Archdiocese of Baltimore would take from the canonizations.
“One reason I am so happy Pope Francis decided to canonize John XXIII is that I want the people I serve to know about him and I, myself, want to be reminded of him. I want them to know who it was who called the Second Vatican Council, who it was as apostolic nuncio who rescued so many Jewish refugees, I want myself and the people I serve to know someone who was from humble origins who rose to such great heights of holiness.”
“With John Paul II, he is very much in the living memory of most of the people I serve, but this is a chance to know him more profoundly. Perhaps people remember him as a sort of rock star — and he did have an impeccable sense of timing and he certainly was a person who knew how to communicate in so many languages. But I also want everyone to know him as a man of deep prayer, deep holiness, I would want them to hear his call — repeated throughout his 27-year papacy — ‘Be not afraid.’”
The archbishop said he came to Rome as William Lori, as the archbishop of Baltimore and as the supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.
He’s spent time with the Baltimore pilgrims who came to Rome for the canonization and with the Knights who traveled to the city for the celebration. But, he said, “I come as one whose life and ministry was deeply touched by Pope John Paul II. He became pope one year after I was ordained and I didn’t know much about him, but I experienced very much his fatherhood as a young priest. I would have come for reasons of personal devotion,” even if he wasn’t an archbishop and Knights’ chaplain.
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