Two inspiring saints: They encourage us to spread Christ's message in the world Print
Written by Mary C. Uhler   
Thursday, May. 01, 2014 -- 12:00 AM

Our two newest saints — St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II — have been inspirations in my life and the lives of many people in the last 50+ years. Their canonizations should help bring more attention to their lives and their influence on the Church and the world.

Influence of St. John XXIII

Pope John XXIII (now St. John XXIII) died in 1963, the year I entered Aquinas High School in La Crosse.  Despite his death, he had a profound impact on my high school years. That’s because during my daily religion classes we talked about what was happening at the Second Vatican Council called by Pope John XXIII. We also studied the documents of the council, hot off the presses.

The one I remember most is Gaudium et Spes (“Joy and Hope”), the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. This document touches on many of the challenges facing people in the modern world which we continue to face today: rapid change, an abundance of wealth and resources, discoveries in science and technology, advances in biology and psychology . . . the list goes on. This document is available in its entirety on the Vatican website ( and is certainly worth reading today.

Gaudium et Spes calls for a respect for human life and all of creation and an appreciation for God’s “divine plan.” It also urges dialogue with all people — believers and unbelievers alike — and for members of the Church to work together with others to bring about justice and love, especially regarding the needy.

The council led to more involvement by all members of the Church in spreading Christ’s message into the world. I became active in the Newman Club at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and later accepted a position at the Catholic Herald in part because of the council’s influence.

Influence of St. John Paul II

Pope John Paul II (now St. John Paul II), who attended the Second Vatican Council, helped fulfill the mission begun by Pope John XXIII by encouraging Catholics to be courageous witnesses of Christ. “Be not afraid,” he repeated three times during his homily when he became pope in 1978.

Pope John Paul II brought the message of Christ throughout the world in his visits to 129 counties, where he constantly called for respect for life and championed the poor and oppressed. He upheld the basic truths of the Church and especially reached out to young people, many of whom responded by becoming priests, consecrated women, and active lay Catholics.

I saw Pope John Paul II in 1979 during his visit to the United States. At the Mass he celebrated at Living History Farms outside Des Moines, Iowa, I was in the front row of the press area and the pope walked within a few feet of where I stood. Many of us likened that Mass to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

In 2004, I again got close to Pope John Paul II while participating in the Diocese of Madison’s Ad Limina Pilgrimage. I wrote about that experience: “A brisk wind blew on and off through St. Peter’s Square. It was reminiscent of the Holy Spirit as he appeared to the apostles. And then the Holy Father arrived, with loud cheers and applause echoing throughout the square. The pope told us that we, too, are gifted by the Holy Spirit, just as the apostles and Mary were. ‘It’s the same Spirit that dwells in our hearts. We, too, are called to receive the Holy Spirit and go out to proclaim the wonders of God.’”

Both of these holy men have influenced so many lives and they will continue to do so in the years ahead. I won’t be surprised to see more boys being named “John” or “John Paul” in the future.

Let us pray to both St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II to intercede for all of us as we, too, strive to follow in their footsteps in spreading Christ’s message in the world.