A lot has been made of the contrasts between the two Pontiffs. John the XXIII is known as having been a great liberalizing force for the Catholic Church, and John Paul II a real advocate for adhering to its most conservative tenets. But many church insiders say actually the two men represent continuity in the Church. John XXIII made it more accessible to people by replacing Latin masses with vernacular ones, and having priests face the congregations rather than stand with their backs to them. And John Paul II, with his tireless globetrotting, brought the Church to the people.
And he did it for more than a century. You can see the impact of that when you assess the crowds on St. Peter's Square who have come from around the world to celebrate these canonizations.
Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian Pope in centuries, and his election, at a time when Poles, along with their East European neighbors were struggling under the yoke of Soviet Communism, deprived of freedom of expression and religion. He became a symbol of resistance in that part of the world and is credited with helping bring about the fall of the Soviet Union and subsequent regime changes in its satellite states.
Among the groups who embraced John Paul II with the most enthusiasm were young people around the world. He did a lot to grab their attention and fire up their faith.
There is a powerful Polish contingent on St. Peter's Square getting ready for the big day. 2000 busloads of Poles were said to have made the journey to Rome overland.
John XXIII was way ahead of his time. Much like the current Pope, Francis, he would break out of the Vatican at all times of day or night to go visit people, in prisons, and in hospitals. He turned around the practice whereby people, especially assistants in the Vatican, had to address the Pope on their knees. He had a familiar and jovial way about him. And he was a true advocate for social justice. Prior to becoming Pope, during the Second World War, he helped many Jews escape. John XXIII is most remembered for convening Vatican Two, bringing the Church more in line with the times.
Elected Pope when he was well into his seventies, John XXIII was supposed to be a placeholder Pope, but in his five years on the job, he made an enormous impact. He died of stomach cancer before Vatican Two ended.