Looking for a Miracle: Postulator Awaits John Paul II's Canonization
Slawomir Oder was born in Chelmza, Poland, in 1960, and was ordained a priest 28 years later at Pelplinie, though the majority of his priestly life has been spent in Rome.
The life of this young Polish priest changed radically when Cardinal Camillo Ruini, then the Pope’s vicar for the Diocese of Rome, assigned him the task of postulator in the process of beatification of John Paul II.
For Monsignor Oder, this was “the adventure of his life,” which enriched him as a priest and as a man.
On the occasion of the seventh anniversary of John Paul II’s death (April 2, 2005) and the first anniversary of his beatification (May 1, 2011), ZENIT spoke with Monsignor Oder to recall the intense years of the process, but also to speak about devotion to the new Blessed and the possibilities of canonization.
ZENIT: How did you live 2011, the year of John Paul II’s beatification?
Monsignor Oder: The year 2011 was a very particular one for me: On May 1 the ceremony of John Paul II’s beatification took place and on Oct. 22 the first liturgical feast of the new Blessed was celebrated. Thus last year, after six years of intense work, I attained an important goal: the Church was finally able to offer the people of God and the world the splendid figure of the new Blessed. However, the year 2011 marked only the first stage because the process has not halted. From the theological point of view, there is little change between "saints" and "blessed." What does change, instead, is the extent of the devotion: for a blessed the devotion proposed is local, but in the case of the saint the devotion is universal. The involvement of the pontifical authority also changes: the pronouncement on sanctity, that is, canonization, involves the Pontiff’s infallibility.
ZENIT: Does this mean that the process of the cause is not carried out again for the canonization of a blessed?
Monsignor Oder: In regard to canonization, the process is not carried out again to ascertain heroic virtue because this heroism has already been ascertained. To be able to attain the goal of canonization the practice of the Church requires a second miracle, which must occur after the day of beatification.
ZENIT: Let’s return to the years of the process: What were the salient moments of the cause of beatification that have remained impressed in your mind?
Monsignor Oder: Undoubtedly the moment when the cardinal-vicar of the Diocese of Rome entrusted this task to me. It was the day of Benedict XVI’s visit to the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, his first meeting with the clergy of Rome. On the same day the Pontiff made known his decision to dispense with the waiting period for the opening of the process. It was a great sign of the cardinal’s confidence in me. I am judiciary vicar and already then I was working as president of the Court of Appeal of the Vicariate of Rome. This new reality was added to my daily work. It was a great professional but also personal challenge because I had to reorganize my life completely.
The second important instance was the opening of the process, the day of the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul with the presence of representatives of the local Churches, among them the Church of Rome and the Church of Poland, but also representatives of Sister Churches, such as the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The ecumenical character of the opening of the process corresponded with one of the most significant traits of John Paul II’s pontificate, namely, the ecumenical dimension.
Then the procedural work followed: the collection of documents and the meetings with witnesses. Among the witnesses were persons that, together with the Pope, contributed to changing contemporary history. From the human point of view, I lived the beautiful experience of being able to meet these great protagonists of history.
A very emotional moment occurred when, shortly after the opening of the process, I was called to France to learn of the event that the Church later recognized as miraculous: the healing of Sister Simon Pierre. I was very overwhelmed by that moment.
I don’t hide the emotions with which I lived the procedural stages: the consignment of the Positio, the recognition of the miracle and the promulgation of the decree on the heroism of the virtues.
However, the most gratifying moment for me was the exchange of peace with the Holy Father during the Mass of Beatification. On one hand I saw Pope Benedict XVI’s great joy, who from the beginning wished to accompany this process with his benevolence, discreet prayer and several homilies and interventions, which were his indirect contribution to this process.
On the other hand, immediately after the Mass, when I left St. Peter’s Square, I saw the enthusiasm of the people from all over the world, the Church in celebration; then I felt great gratitude to God and great personal satisfaction.
ZENIT: What was it like to “investigate” John Paul II’s sanctity?
Monsignor Oder: The process of beatification became for me the adventure to see up close a priestly history, because John Paul II was pontiff, cardinal and bishop, but he always remained a priest. He lived all his life with the priestly spirit. “To investigate” John Paul II made it possible for me to come close to a splendid example of priesthood, which enthused me, reinforced my vocation and gave me much stimulation for personal growth.
[Translation by ZENIT]
The life of Slawomir Oder changed radically when Cardinal Camillo Ruini, then the Pope’s vicar for the Diocese of Rome, assigned him the task of postulator in the process of beatification of John Paul II.
Monsignor Oder spoke with ZENIT about the process and his findings, as well as what comes next.
ZENIT: According to established practice, devotion to Blessed John Paul II should be limited to Italy and Poland. However, we hear about requests from other parts of the world to authorize devotion to the Blessed. What can you tell us about this?
Monsignor Oder: It’s true that the beatification has the characteristic that it concerns the local Church, but since the beginning, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments gave to local episcopates the possibility to request from the congregation itself the ability to celebrate the feast of the new Blessed, taking into account the global dimension of devotion to a person like John Paul II. So, many episcopates have taken advantage of this possibility and have inscribed in the calendar of the local Churches the feast of Blessed John Paul.
ZENIT: We also see the phenomenon of devotion to the relics of Blessed John Paul II. Every day thousands of faithful pray at his tomb in St. Peter’s. But we also have the phenomenon of pilgrimages to places where his relics are found.
Monsignor Oder: It’s a phenomenon that arose spontaneously, initially, with the requests of individual persons who asked for a holy picture with a relic ex indumentis of the Blessed. Since the devotion was permitted, it is possible to dedicate churches to Blessed John Paul. Several bishops have asked for relics to have them in their dioceses, in a church or a seminary. Then, to continue symbolically in some way the style of his pontificate -- the itinerant style of the pilgrim of love and peace -- his relics have begun to go on pilgrimage. The first “coming out” of the relics was for the World Youth Day of Madrid where they remained as a sign. Then the relics left for Mexico.
ZENIT: How did that second pilgrimage take place -- you participated personally?
Monsignor Oder: The pilgrimage in Mexico took place from last October until the end of the month of December in all the dioceses of the country. I took part personally in part of it. It was an overwhelming experience, because the Mexican people lived it as if it were another visit from John Paul II. After Mexico also some bishops of Colombia requested the presence of the relics. At present the relics are in Nigeria.
ZENIT: Does the risk exist of misinterpreting devotion to the relics?
Monsignor Oder: The risk exists but it is always necessary to remember that it is not about a magical aspect: the relics are a sign of the presence of saints in our midst, the historical and concrete sign. It’s not a magical reality but a recalling of the person’s values, of his teaching. I must say that all the experiences of the pilgrimage left me very edified, because the people were prepared with a worthy spirit, with catechesis, with the [groundwork] of the Pope’s teaching.
ZENIT: I would like to return for a moment to your visit to Mexico. What Church and what religiosity did you see in that country?
Monsignor Oder: I found a living, joyful Church full of hope. A Church with much popular religiosity, but not because of this any less authentic and profound. The visit of the relics was an occasion to renew ardor for the Eucharist, to listen to the Word of God and, above all, an invitation to conversion. I was told that the passage of the relics was marked by so many conversions and confessions. This is a sign that interest in the Blessed’s relics is not just based on human curiosity, but on listening to the Spirit who speaks to the Church and to the faithful.
ZENIT: What is the role of the postulation after John Pau II’s beatification?
Monsignor Oder: Canonization does not require the reopening of the process on heroic virtue; this whole aspect, which was very demanding, now belongs to history. My work now consists of “vigilance” to be able to identify a miracle and proceed to the canonization. In the meantime the figure of the postulator has become a point of reference for this whole spiritual movement linked to the desire to know more about the message of the life and sanctity of John Paul II.
Blessed John Paul II said that every gift is a commitment. That is why I now gladly take part in several initiatives to be able to make a contribution to knowledge of the figure of the Blessed and his teachings. For me it is a duty to share with others all that I have received in these years lived as postulator, years that have been a real grace for me.
ZENIT: Can you tell us something about the miracles attributed to John Paul II pointed out in the postulation?
Monsignor Oder: I can say that the phenomenon we saw before the beatification did not stop with it: Many letters and testimonies continue to arrive in my office recounting graces received. Some are very interesting and significant. My attention is drawn to some cases in particular. I have asked for documentation to be able to go deeper into a case and, if the outcome is positive, then we will be able to start immediately with the process on the miracle. For the moment I’m still waiting and do not wish to go into details.
ZENIT: What can you say to people who want to know how much time must pass before the canonization of Blessed John Paul II?
Monsignor Oder: There are no limits established by the Code of Canon Law. Here one sees clearly that the Lord is the real protagonist of the process. When the Lord deems it opportune to give the Church this sign, the sign will come in an unmistakable way and we will know with certainty that the moment has come to proclaim John Paul II a saint of the Church.
ZENIT: How is a miracle ascertained, attributed to the intercession of John Paul II?
Monsignor Oder: The first verification is made by me in the postulation, obviously in collaboration with the experts. Once the goodness of the case is ascertained, a canonical process is instituted during which all the documentation is collected, then the so-called positio is prepared and everything goes to the Congregation for Saints' Causes. Within the congregation, the medical consultation establishes if, from the point of view of the human sciences, the event is or is not explainable. Then, the Theological Commission must ascertain the nexus of causality between the invocation of the Blessed’s intercession and the effect obtained with a manifestation of Divine Grace.
ZENIT: When does everything go to the Holy Father?
Monsignor Oder: At the request of the prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, the Holy Father authorizes the publication of the decree that recognizes the miracle and that opens the way to canonization.
We hope to be able to read this decree in the pages of L’Osservatore Romano as soon as possible.