Elbowing with Multitudes: A Religious Experience At Canonization Rites

By Fernando R. Capalla
Archbishop Emeritus


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International media reported that the multitudes in St. Peter's Square and along the wide Via Conciliazione fronting the square already numbered 1.3 million individuals mostly Catholic devotees of Saint John Paul II and St. John XXIII. The count did not include the 150 Cardinals and 700 concelebrating bishops, thousands of priests and religious and foreign government officials. Hundreds of media outfits strategically located in the square made the solemn canonization rites, which started at 10am, visible throughout the world by means of electronic media.

The entry points on both sides and front of Via Conciliazione were to be opened at 5am. But as early as 2am the multitudes began to grow in all the entrances. And individual families and groups tied together by clenched elbows were ready to move inside. Not surprisingly they were happy yet quiet and reverent, prayerful and reflective; they were well behaved, respectful, uncomplaining and patient; there was not a sign of fighting for space or pushing. Literally, the multitudes were moving like a boulder rolling on without making steps!

Among the crowds were the Evangelista Family members - Ernie, Mercy, Jun, April, and family friends Esther and Sr. Apol of the Daughters of St. Paul. They were there because they too love St. John Paul II. Their school has been renamed St. John Paul II College of Davao before they came to Rome. They were prepared to witness the solemn papal proclamation that John Paul II can be prayed to and be approached when we need his intercessory prayers. They had a huge brass statue of the saint made, blessed and venerated on March 10 in the school campus several weeks before. The March 10 celebration was preceded by a weeklong informative activities on the life and ministry of Pope John Paul II organized by Dr. April Evangelista, the School's Vice President, assisted by Fr. Russell Bantiles and Sr. Thea May Superio, the campus minister. A strange happening in the evening of March 10 in the school campus seemed to prepare the Evangelistas for a 'religious experience' among the multitudes in St. Peter's Square that beautiful morning of April 27. For this we need to back track a bit.

After the blessing of the brass statue and the Mass in the school quadrangle on March 10, the ciborium containing the Sacred Species was brought back to the school chapel by Fr. Russell Bantiles. Then a certain guest by the name of Marlene Bernardo, a friend of Fr. Junar de la Victoria, went to the chapel around 6pm and as if by intuition took a photo of the altar with her mobile phone. Later at dinner she showed the photo to us. And this is the strange thing, to the secular mind, at least. But not to the religious mind. The photo showed a ray of light emitting from the chapel's ceiling and flowing into the ciborium on the altar which contained the Sacred Eucharistic Presence! There was no ceiling bulb as source of light; at 6pm no sunlight could pierce through the chapel on top of which are 7 concrete floors of the building. How to read the strange occurrence? Human logic and reasoning seemed unable to explain. From the perspective of religious faith, was there some explanation that could make sense? Was the future saint sending a message?

Ernie could not get over the thought. It could not be just a pure coincidence. It could be God's provident blessing through St. John Paul II’s appreciation of what the Evangelistas have been doing for him. So on that morning at St. Peter's Square, on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27, during the Eucharistic Celebration in honor of their favorite saint, the ray of light symbol of God's mercy that comes from His Sacred Presence in the bread of the Euchatist could now be seen from a faith perspective. The March 10 'photographic miracle' now made sense on April 27!

So as people of faith, the Evangelistas can rightly say that, as evidence of God's merciful blessing, the 12 hours, with the multitude devotees in St. Peter's Square standing on their feet without food, without the urge to satisfy major and minor necessities, without the feeling of thirst or hunger, without being physically tired - these and the consciousness of being in the holy presence of St. John Paul II were for them undoubtedly very special graces. They were part and parcel of a religious experience that only the Holy Spirit can effect in the souls of those who love God the Father in His Son Jesus, and obtained through the prayers of St. John Paul II. (I was there too, just below the huge picture of the saint hanging from the high facade of St. Peter's Basilica).