RALEIGH — When Michael Burbidge, bishop of the Diocese of Raleigh, met Pope John Paul II the first time, Burbidge was a 20-something one year from graduation at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary outside Philadelphia.
The half-hour encounter left an impression. “I often say that if I could have been ordained a priest that day, I would have done it,” Burbidge said. “He was so inspiring, commending us for saying ‘Yes’ to God’s call and assuring us that it would be a life of great joy. He was just so encouraging.”
Burbidge met Pope John Paul II three more times, the last of which was six months before the pope’s death in 2005. The pontiff suffered from Parkinson’s disease and could no longer talk.
But Burbidge said each time they met, “there was a joy and serenity that was certainly a reflection of his great faith. I always say he taught us how to live and how to suffer and how to die.”
On Sunday, Pope Francis canonized the late Pope John Paul II along with the late Pope John XXIII, making them saints in the Catholic Church.
The double canonization breaks with tradition, as does the decision by Pope Francis to waive two of the rigorous requirements for sainthood. Pope John XXIII didn’t have two miracles attributed to him, and Pope John Paul II’s canonization process began shortly after his death, rather than the traditional five years.
The detailed process of becoming a saint, Burbidge said, is “a process to serve the greater good,” and added that the two popes’ lives merited the exceptions.
“And I think what we see in John the XXIII and John Paul II is such an obvious recognition of their saintly lives, that the process is there to guide us but there will always be reasons for exceptions, like in any formal process,” he said.
While some say the two new saints represent different persuasions of the Catholic Church, Burbidge sees only their similarities.
“John Paul II continued very much the work of John XXIII,” he said. “There’s almost a harmony, so when people make this big gap, this separation, I don’t see that.”
Pope John XXIII moved the church toward modernity with the second Vatican council, and Pope John II used social media “to bring the truth of the gospel out with new ardor, new expressions,” Burbidge said. “So both popes recognized the need for always bringing new life into the church.”