Rome is facing a rather busy weekend, with some 1 million visitors expected (of whom a fair number are arriving today and tomorrow) for an event that has been unmatched since the funeral of Pope John Paul II. It is therefore quite fitting that this same venerable pope is the focus of this weekend’s happenings as well.
For the first time in more than 1,000 years, a pope is being beatified by his immediate successor. And it could have happened even sooner, had Pope Benedict XVI not decided to have the regular process followed. Cardinal Ruini, vicar general of Rome and president of the Italian bishops’ conference during the conclave that elected the current pope, has recently said that he received a petition at the time signed by a significant number of cardinals, that called for the immediate canonisation of Pope John Paul II. Rather a gesture made in the heat of the moment, I would say. Still, six years since the death of the future Blessed is a very short time to reach beatification. But it is happening nonetheless.
The Vatican has published the calendar of the beatification, which will take place on Sunday 1 May. As during his funeral, the beatification of John Paul II will be attended by numerous dignitaries from across the globe. King Albert II and Queen, as well as the prime minister will represent Belgium, a similar representation as during the funeral of the late pope. The Netherlands are also repeating their attendance at the funeral, with the smallest possible delegation. Did the prime minister attend the funeral, now only the Secretary for the Interior and Kingdom Relations, Piet Hein Donner, will be present. I guess that, when it comes to relations with religions, especially the Catholic Church, the state of the Netherlands still does not really understand how things work.
Sadly, this minimal representation is also copied by the Church in the Netherlands. Cardinal Simonis is the only Dutch bishop in Rome this weekend. Simonis, the former archbishop of Utrecht and host to Pope John Paul II during his visit to the Netherlands in 1985, was created a cardinal in that same year, by the same pope. The other Dutch bishops will be in The Hague to celebrate a solemn High Mass to mark the sixth anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI. A lofty purpose, certainly, but it leaves the Dutch presence, and thus the sign of importance attached not only to the beatification, but also to the person of Pope John Paul II, absolutely tiny.
Luckily, with the Vatican blogmeet happening a day after the canonisation, the beatification will be well-covered by the social media. Catholic bloggers and social media entrepeneurs such as Father Roderick, Rocco Palmo and Thomas Peters are in Rome to cover the events. Follow them and some of the other bloggers in my blogroll. I’m sure they will all have much to say about the events of the weekend.
Photo credit:  Diocese of Roermond,  White House/Eric Draper