Local Catholics in awe of new saints

Even though they weren’t among those who crowded into Vatican City to witness the canonization of two popes, area Catholics said the milestone event and related activities left them in awe.

“This is one of the most historical days of the Catholic church,” Paul Smith of Johnstown said. “It definitely marks today’s Sunday for the rest of my life.”

Smith was among those gathering in Altoona on Sunday afternoon at St. Rose of Lima for a Mass hosted by the Society of St. Vincent dePaul in honor of Frederick Ozanam, the organization’s founder. At a reception that followed the Mass, many said they watched the morning ceremony or portions of the ceremony on TV.

To have been there would have been “sweet,” said Sonny Consiglio of Altoona.

Pope John XXIII, he said, was the reigning pope while he was growing up.

“As a young Catholic, he was very impressionable,” Consiglio said. “Now, to see him become a saint … it’s just incredible.”

For Bernadette Dillon, having two popes simultaneously canonized is incredible.

“It’s never happened before in my lifetime,” the 73-year-old Hastings woman said.

“Both are very blessed men,” said Leona Gorge of Lilly. “They were both very good for the church.”

The Vatican estimated that more than 500,000 people filled the basilica to see Pope Francis declare his predecessors, Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II as saints.

In addition to the double canonization, Pope Benedict XVI also attended, making it the first time a reigning pope and retired pope celebrated Mass together in public.

George Ferrante of Johnstown, who said he watched some of the TV coverage before heading to a 7:30 a.m. Mass, said he remains in awe of the historic events.

“To see all this happen in our generation of time is just unbelieveable,” Ferrante said. “John XXIII is the pope that many of us knew. We watched him become pope, and we watched him carry on his duties as pope. … Now he has become a saint, along with John Paul, and all of this in our lifetime, in our generation of time.”

Suzanne Bowser of Williamsburg said she not only saw some of the Sunday morning ceremony, she also stayed up late Saturday night to watch a Los Angeles ceremony organized in honor of the double canonization.

“It was just beautiful, just gorgeous, all kinds of ethnic participation. …” Bowser said. “And the music – the music was just outstanding.”

Alice Emanuel, spiritual adviser for St. Vincent dePaul, offered a blessing before the reception and mentioned the double canonization falling on Divine Mercy Sunday, a week after Easter.

“Pope John XXIII, he is my hero,” Emanual said. “Because of him, lay people became more active in our churches.”

Pope John XXIII, who reigned from 1958-63, is often recognized for the convening of Vatican II, which allowed Mass to be celebrated in local languages rather than Latin and encouraged greater dialogue with people of other faiths.

Bob Nickerson of Cresson, a member of St. Demetris Church in Gallitzin, said both popes had their controversies, including John Paul II, for his support of the Solidarity trade union in Poland and the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.

“His opening of the crack in the Iron Curtin, that was a good thing,” Nickerson said.

Don Tedjeske of Johnstown said he’s glad to see both popes become saints.

“I’m old enough to remember John XXIII and all the changes he brought,” Tedjeske said. “They were long overdue … and I remember John Paul, too. It was hard not to like him. They were both great.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.