Pope John Paul II

Is Pope Francis Sneaking Out of the Vatican? Maybe Not, but He Wouldn't Be the First

Pope Francis carries his crosier. Photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

Vatican officials say reports that Pope Francis has been slipping out at night to visit the homeless in Rome are “simply not true,” though that hasn’t stopped the stories from capturing the public imagination.

That’s probably because such tales seem right in line with Francis’ unconventional and pastoral style. What’s more, the faithful always love it when a church leader sneaks under the radar to make a point — witness the fascination with the Mormon bishop who recently disguised himself as a panhandler and then revealed his identity when he climbed into the pulpit.

But breaking out of the “gilded cage” of the Vatican has been a dream of many popes and other churchmen who fear losing touch with their calling as pastors — or simply their connection to ordinary life.

Expectations High for Summit between Pope Francis and Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin. RNS, courtesy Kremlin.ru via Wikimedia Commons

Next week’s summit between Pope Francis and Russian President Vladmir Putin may be the most important meeting between a pontiff and a visiting head of state in nearly a quarter of a century, with war-torn Syria expected to be the top priority.

Francis has met with more than a dozen heads of state or government as pontiff, and Putin has met with both Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II. But this meeting stands out.

It’s been just four years since full diplomatic ties were re-established between Russia and the Holy See, set against a backdrop of centuries of tension between the Vatican and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Pope Francis Breathes New Life into Cardinal Bernardin’s Contested Legacy

Pope John Paul II elevated Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago to cardinal in a Feb. 2, 1983 consistory. RNS file photo

The election of Pope Francis in March heralded a season of surprises for the Catholic Church, but perhaps none so unexpected – and unsettling for conservatives – as the re-emergence of the late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin as a model for the American Catholic future.

While there is no indication that Francis knows the writings of Bernardin, who died in 1996, many say the pope’s remarks repeatedly evoke Bernardin’s signature teachings on the “consistent ethic of life” – the view that church doctrine champions the poor and vulnerable from womb to tomb – and on finding “common ground” to heal divisions in the church.

Record Crowds Expected for John Paul II, John XXIII Canonizations

Pope John Paul II participates in a procession in August, 2000. RNS file photo courtesy Universal Press Syndicate.

Vatican officials say they expect next year’s celebration for the canonizations of former popes John Paul II and John XXIII to be attended by as many as 100 heads of state in what is likely to be the biggest draw to the city since John Paul’s funeral in 2005.

The crowd estimates were made Tuesday, the feast day for John Paul. This will be the last time he will be venerated as Blessed Pope John Paul II; after the canonization ceremony on April 27, 2014, he will be known as St. Pope John Paul II.

John Paul’s 2005 funeral may have been the single largest gathering in Christian history, with estimates as high as 4 million mourners gathered in the Italian capital, along with at least 80 presidents, prime ministers, and monarchs.

Pope to Canonize John Paul II and John XXIII in April

Pope John Paul II participates in a procession in August, 2000. RNS file photo courtesy Universal Press Syndicate.

Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be formally declared saints on April 27, 2014, the Vatican said Monday. Pope Francis made the announcement during a meeting with cardinals gathered in Rome.

John Paul, who was pope from 1978 to 2005, and John, who reigned from 1958 to 1963, are considered two of the most influential religious leaders in the world in the last century, and they represent two poles in Roman Catholicism — John XXIII is a hero to liberals, while John Paul II is widely hailed by conservatives.

Are Miracles Really Needed to Become a Saint?

Photo courtesy RNS.

Pope John XXIII, 76 when he was elected in 1958. Photo courtesy RNS.

When the Vatican announced this month that Pope Francis would formally elevate Popes John Paul II and John XXIII to sainthood, two things stood out.

For John Paul, it was the record speed that he reached sainthood, just eight years after his death. The only other saint to be canonized so quickly in modern times was Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva, whose sainthood bid took 27 years.

But for John XXIII, Francis decided to waive the church law that requires a second miracle in order to be named a saint. Asked how John XXIII could be named a saint without the required second miracle, the Vatican’s chief spokesman said “no one doubts his virtues.”

Pope Francis Proclaims John Paul II, John XXIII as New Saints

Photo courtesy RNS.

Pope Francis declared on Friday that Popes John Paul II (right) and John XXIII (left) will be made saints. Photo courtesy RNS.

Pope Francis declared on Friday that Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be made saints, elevating the two most decisive popes of the 20th century to the pantheon of Catholic life and worship.

In a sign of the worldwide devotion for John XXIII, known as “Good Pope John,” Francis waived the requirement for a second miracle credited to John XXIII’s intercession, with the Vatican’s spokesman saying, “no one doubts his virtues.”

Francis signed off on a decree recognizing the second miracle attributed to the Polish-born John Paul II, who reigned from 1978 to 2005 , and is credited with globalizing the papacy and playing a key role in the downfall of the communist regimes of Eastern Europe.

John Paul II, Oscar Romero, and the Politics of Making Saints

Pope John Paul II gestures in a still from the PBS frontline show.

Pope John Paul II gestures in a still from the PBS frontline show, “John Paul II: The Millennial Pope.”

Reports this week that the late Pope John Paul II may be on the verge of sainthood after a second miracle was credited to his intercession aren’t a huge surprise: When he died eight years ago, crowds were already clamoring for his canonization, and Pope Benedict XVI quickly waived the usual five-year waiting period to get the process rolling.

But the news that Pope Francis, just six weeks on the job, has cleared the way for the long-stalled canonization of martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero is a stunner that sends another important signal about the new pope’s priorities.

“Sainthood is often as much about politics and image as anything else,” said the Rev. Harvey Egan, a Jesuit priest and professor emeritus of theology at Boston College.

“It’s not surprising to me that this present pope being from South America, having the same inclinations as Romero, would unblock the process and say ‘Push his cause through,’ and I think rightly so.”

Pope Francis a Huge Hit With U.S. Catholics (For Now)

Pope Francis waves during his inauguration Mass at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. Photo courtesy RNS.

He has been Pope Francis for less than a month, but the keep-it-simple prelate from Argentina is a wow with American Catholics — at least for now.

The tables may turn on Francis once media attention moves from his no-fuss style to his substantive actions, said a Vatican expert Wednesday.

The former archbishop of Buenos Aires has an 84 percent favorable rating among U.S. Catholics, including 43 percent who hold a very favorable view of him, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Everything You Need to Know About Popes and Conclaves

Cardinals at the papal conclave in April 2005. Photo courtesy Rostislav Glinsky/shutterstock.com

“In the church,” Chicago Cardinal Francis George once said, “everything has happened at least once!” That’s no surprise given that the Catholic Church is a nearly 2,000-year-old institution that has adapted to radically different epochs.

But electing a new pope while the former pope is still alive? That’s rare.

So what are some other firsts and lasts, quirks and facts of papal history that you should know? There are plenty, and Religion News Service has compiled a handy guide.