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John Paul II Sainthood Stirs Latin America

The canonization of Pope John Paul II is drawing special attention in Latin America, reviving both warm memories of his frequent visits to the region and debate over his handling of sex-abuse scandals.

The other pope canonized Sunday, John XXIII, also left a deep mark in Latin America after he promoted changes within the Catholic Church that prompted priests to get closer to the faithful. Many say that encouraged “liberation theology,” a left-leaning, activist trend among priests eager to help the poor.

But it is John Paul, a critic of liberation theology, who is getting the buzz in Latin America. The most-traveled pope in history visited Latin America on 18 of his 104 international trips, including five visits to Mexico and four to Brazil.

“He was `the’ pope because he was always with the poor, and showed his simplicity and his love for his people,” said Ana Maria Sanchez, 52, a Mexico City housewife.

The broadcast of the double canonization ceremony was to be shown in movie theaters in countries like Mexico and Colombia.

Women cross themselves as they walk past an effigy of Pope John Paul II, kept under glass at the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, Friday, April 25, 2014. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

“I remember John Paul II because he was recent and he was very close to the people, very charismatic. He was a man who radiated goodness and spirituality,” said Yadira Argel, 28, a lawyer in Colombia.

John Paul rebuked Latin American priests who sought to involve the church politically through the doctrine of “liberation theology.”

For “the people who remember the Second Vatican Council, and who are more the Catholics of the left, John XXIII is an icon of leftist Catholics worldwide,” said Andrew Chesnut, a professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

John Paul’s legacy is mixed in another way: Many felt he did not act forcefully enough on sex abuse scandals among clergy.

Jose Barba, a former member of the Legion of Christ who has become one of the most outspoken victims of sexual abuse in the order, questioned the decision to make John Paul a saint.

“I am not opposed to the canonization if it can truly and decisively be proven that the Pope didn’t know,” he said.

But, he said, “I am convinced now, as I never was before, that the Pope did know.”

Pilgrims and faithful are gathering in Rome to attend Sunday’s ceremony at the Vatican where Pope Francis will elevate in a solemn ceremony John XXIII and John Paul II to sainthood. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

The late founder of the Legion of Christ, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, led a double life, sexually abusing his seminarians and fathering three children.

For sexual abuse survivors and their advocates, the Legion scandal has become emblematic of the Catholic Church’s concern for the institution over victims. Despite credible reports sent to the Vatican starting in the 1950s that Maciel was a pedophile, drug addict and manipulative liar, it took until 2006 for then-Pope Benedict XVI to bring Maciel to justice. The Mexican prelate died two years later.

The most-traveled pope in history, John Paul II left his mark on the Catholic Church and non-believers worldwide. Here are some milestones along his path to sainthood:

BY THE NUMBERS

  • Elected to the papacy in 1978 as first non-Italian pope in 455 years and only Pole.
  • Upon election he was 58, the youngest pope in 125 years.
  • Distance traveled on his foreign trips: 725,000 miles, or nearly three times the distance from the Earth to the moon. He visited more than 120 countries, including the United States five times.
  • Codified church teaching in the first major revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 400 years.
  • In 1986, made the first recorded visit by a pope to a Jewish house of worship when he visited Rome’s main synagogue. In 2001, became first pope to enter a Muslim house of worship when he visited a mosque in Syria.
  • Biggest turnout for a papal appearance: 4 million in the Philippines in 1995.
A faithful from Mexico holds a large drawing of John Paul II as she stands in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Saturday, April 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

NO, NO, NO

In writings and speeches, John Paul reaffirmed the Vatican’s ban on artificial birth control, abortion, euthanasia, divorce, in vitro fertilization, sex outside marriage, homosexual relations and same-sex unions.

PROLIFIC POLYGLOT

He produced 14 encyclicals and the best-selling book `’Crossing the Threshold of Hope.” At Christmas and Easter, he delivered greetings in dozens of languages. Among the many tongues he mastered besides his native Polish were Italian, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Portuguese and English. Once, to a group of Roman seminarians, he joked in `’Romanesco,” the Eternal City’s earthy local dialect.

TOUGH TIMES

Born Karol Wojtyla in southern Poland on May 18, 1920. By the time he was 20, both parents and his sole sibling were dead and his homeland was occupied by the Nazis. He studied clandestinely to become a priest. Ordained in 1946, after the end of World War II.

ON THE RISE

He became auxiliary bishop of Krakow in 1958, bishop in 1964, cardinal in 1967.

PROVIDENTIAL SURVIVOR

He credited divine providence for surviving an assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981 that left him gravely wounded. Later he visited the gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk, in prison and forgave him. Various theories about the attack abounded, including purported involvement from the Soviet bloc, but reasons behind it were never made clear.

SHOWING SOLIDARITY

His 1979 pilgrimage to Poland helped foster the birth of the Solidarity labor movement, and later tours kept alive its spirit during Communist crackdowns. In 1985, he capped a six-year mediation effort in joining Argentina and Chile in signing a treaty to end 200-year-long dispute over Beagle Channel.

CONSERVATIVE TO A POINT

His back-to-basics conservatism on doctrinal issues pleased conservatives. But John Paul also declared that capital punishment had no place in modern society, frequently railed against `’unbridled” capitalism and consumerism, and denounced the war in Iraq.

TARNISHED TENURE

Scandals involving pedophile priests and systematic efforts by church hierarchy to cover up the abuse exploded under John Paul’s watch in the United States, Western Europe and elsewhere.

UNFULFILLED DREAM

Mikhail Gorbachev was the first Soviet leader to visit the pope at the Vatican. But Orthodox-Catholic tensions thwarted John Paul’s dream of visiting Russia.

LAST VOYAGE

Ravaged by Parkinson’s disease, he prayed in 2004 at the shrine at Lourdes, France, where many faithful seek miracles. That was the 84-year-old pontiff’s final trip abroad.

NOTABLE AND QUOTABLE

  • `Nazi paganism and Marxist dogma … tend to become substitute religions.”
  • Jews are Christians’ `’older brothers.”
  • “The Church is not a democracy, and no one from below can decide on the truth.’”

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