Cardinal Justin Rigali called the news of Pope John Paul II’s beatification May 1 “a validation for the wonderful things that he did during his pontificate – the wonderful outreach to the world of all different religions, of all people, especially people in pain, in suffering, that was an extraordinary part of his pontificate.”

The Cardinal made his comments to reporters Jan. 14 at the Philadelphia International Airport upon his return from meetings in Rome.

The Catholic Church teaches that saints and those who are beatified known as Blesseds, are able to be invoked publicly by the faithful to ask their intercession in heaven, the Cardinal said.

Cardinal Rigali also reflected on the millions of people representing “all different nations, walks of life and religions” who paid their respects to late pontiff at his funeral Mass in April 2005.

“Now, the fact that his body will be exhumed and brought from the basement of St. Peter’s Basilica up to the main floor of the basilica will allow millions of people to see him in the years to come and pass by his tomb.

“I’m thrilled,” added the Cardinal.

As a former director of the English language department in the late pope’s secretariat, Cardinal Rigali had the privilege, he said, of accompanying Pope John Paul II throughout his numerous travels around the world.

The first time Cardinal Rigali was in Philadelphia was Oct. 3-4, 1979, on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s official visit.

“It was a great thrill for him” to visit Philadelphia, the Cardinal said. “We went together to St. Peter’s Church to kneel before the body of my (future) predecessor (St. John Neumann, Philadelphia’s fourth bishop). He said Mass at Logan Circle. He was elated. Also, he was a good friend of (the late) Cardinal (John) Krol and he was happy just for the people in general. He had a love for everyone.

“He made a colossal effort, to try every place he went, at least to greet the people in their own language, even if he wasn’t fluent in it. He reached out and showed his tremendous love for people.”

During those years, Cardinal Rigali said he and other Vatican officials had lunches and suppers with John Paul II “hundreds of times,” during which the pope would relay instructions to his collaborators of the Church.

The Cardinal was also nearby Pope John Paul II when the late pontiff was shot in May 1981 in St. Peter’s Square.

“His humanity was such a wonderful gift to God to all humanity,” Cardinal Rigali said. “This was the man that I knew.”

– Christie L. Chicoine

Cardinal John P. Foley, grand master of the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and a former editor of The Catholic Standard &Times, was also delighted by the announcement of the late pontiff’s beatification.

“I was always convinced that he would be a saint,” Cardinal Foley said in a telephone interview Jan. 14.

During his tenure as editor of The Catholic Standard & Times, one of Pope John Paul II’s secretaries came to Philadelphia. During an interview with the secretary, then-Msgr. Foley learned that the pope had, in his kneeler, a list of prayer intentions from people around the world which he read every morning.

Msgr. Foley included this fact in his article for The Catholic Standard & Times and subsequently submitted the story to Catholic News Service in Washington, D.C., which distributed it to other diocesan newspapers across the country.

“The pope began to get hundreds more letters, asking for prayers,” Cardinal Foley recalled.

“The head of the office at that time was a certain Msgr. Justin Rigali. He said that I had created more work for him because all of these letters were coming in asking for prayers for particular intentions. It was just a joke; he wasn’t complaining.”

Cardinal Foley first met the future pontiff in 1967 in Rome when then-Msgr. Foley accompanied then-Archbishop Krol who, along with Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, had been named a cardinal.

“If you ever asked him to remember a particular intention, he would just stop if you were walking along with him” and there, say a prayer in Latin for the intention, said Cardinal Foley.

“Or, if you asked him to pray for somebody who had died, he would stop and say, (in Latin) ‘Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.'”

Pope John Paul II told Cardinal Foley that because of the volume of prayer requests he received, his practice was to pray for the person immediately.

“Ever after that, I’ve done the same thing,” Cardinal Foley said.

“It’s certainly no surprise that Pope John Paul II will be declared Blessed and, I hope, eventually, a saint. He really is a saint for our times.”

– Christie L. Chicoine