Among the hundreds of thousands of Catholic faithful in St. Peter’s Square on Divine Mercy Sunday to witness history as Popes John XXIII and John Paul II received sainthood were a group of parishioners from the Diocese of Knoxville led by Bishop Richard F. Stika and Cardinal Justin Rigali.
The 14 diocesan members, which included Father Charlie Donahue, CSP, pastor of John XXIII Parish on the University of Tennessee campus, and Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the diocese, have been on a canonization pilgrimage to Rome and the Vatican directed by tour operator Select International. The group left for Rome April 21 and return to the diocese April 29.
Bishop Stika and Cardinal Rigali, who processed into the canonization Mass ahead of Pope Francis, celebrated Masses for the diocesan pilgrims in the days leading up to Divine Mercy Sunday, which also was called the day of four popes, a reference to the rare historic event where two popes were being elevated into sainthood during a canonization Mass celebrated by Pope Francis and concelebrated by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Bishop Stika and Father Donahue have been posting text, photos, and video on Facebook of the group’s activities, including close-up images of the canonization Mass.
The canonizations of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II were enthusiastically received by members of Blessed John XXIII Parish and the Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission in Rutledge. Father Rich Andre, CSP, associate pastor of John XXIII Parish in Knoxville, used the opportunity during weekend Masses April 26-27 to recognize original members of the church, which was one of the first in the country to be named for the newly named saint in 1968.
The churches in Rutledge and on the UT campus are expected to undergo name modifications in the near future under the direction of Bishop Stika.
Father Steve Pawelk, GHM, pastor of Blessed John Paul II Catholic Mission, and Father Aaron Wessman, GHM, associate pastor of the mission, have been anticipating the canonization, as have members of the saintly namesake church. Father Pawelk and Father Wessman also are anxiously awaiting the canonization of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, for which the Catholic mission in Maynardville is named.