Every spring in Rome, the big production is normally the Easter Mass celebrated by the pope. This year Easter remains the spiritual linchpin, but in popular terms it’s more like a warm-up act for next Sunday’s double-play canonizations of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II.
This will be the first time two popes have been declared saints in the same ceremony, and although projections vary, well over a million people could turn out in Rome to watch history being made, with millions more following the event on TV or over the Internet.
Here are five things to know about the biggest Vatican happening of early 2014.
First, putting these two popes together amounts to a call for unity between the church’s liberal and conservative wings.
In the Catholic street, John XXIII is an icon of the left, remembered as the pope who launched the reforming Second Vatican Council and opened the Church to the modern world. John Paul II is a hero to the right, the pope who brought down Communism, who fought what he called a “culture of death” behind liberalizing currents on abortion and other life issues, and who insisted on strong Catholic identity vis-à-vis secular pressures to water down the faith.
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