The news that Pope John Paul II has been approved for beatification provides a perfect opportunity to teach students about how the Church confirms sainthood. We are all called to be saints. And yet, there are also great saints who are recognized by our Church. Teach your children and students about this process. Lift up and encourage their heavenly aspirations with a saint who lived during their lifetime.
John Paul II and my conversion story
I was in high school when Pope John Paul II was elected and inaugurated in 1978. The ceremonies moved me deeply, even though my parents were fallen-away Catholics and we rarely went to Mass. Something stirred in me then, and intermittently during the next eight years until I converted to the Catholic Church.
Many fellow protestant friends, who left the Episcopal church with me, chose other paths, and tried to persuade me to follow them. Those who resisted Catholicism always centered that resistance on the papacy. When I measured their words against the presence of Pope John Paul II, I knew they were wrong. His work toward Christian Unity — “that they all be one” — convicted me. His holy example moved me.
My story is a common story. John Paul II stirred up the Holy Spirit in the souls of so many. His reign as Holy Father moved mountains — and walls. Now we’re beginning to see the effect of his life in heaven.
When I saw Pope John Paul II on TV or read his words, he touched my heart and he challenged my intellect. His words compelled, effecting an irresistible force. He and Mother Theresa were the visible saints of our era. They lived lives of holiness. They served the poor. They galvanized the faithful. The converted the masses. They inspired us in our spiritual journeys.
John Paul II died in 2005, which is within the lifespan of CCD-age students. The recent news of JPII’s beatification for May 1 provides a great opportunity to teach the process of how the Church recognizes a saint. You can adapt this lesson to many different age groups.
Lesson plan: How saints are recognized in the Church — John Paul II
Teach your students the process of canonization with focus on John Paul II.
Step 1: A local bishop investigates the candidate’s life, and looks for evidence of heroic virtue. Virtue is the habit of doing right. Heroic virtue involves the extraordinary practice of both the cardinal virtues — prudence, temperance, justice and fortitude — plus the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Love, referred to as “Divine charity” is recognized as the highest virtue, because the love of God informs the right exercise of all the other virtues. Then the information is sent to the Vatican.
Activity: Read about the life of John Paul II in thoughtful comic book format,. Read his own words too. For younger children, read For the Children. For preteens and teens, read My Dear Young Friends. These are both books written by John Paul II. His love rings through every page. You can also use excerpts from these books in class.
Step 2: At the Vatican the Congregation for Cause of Saints reviews the candidate. If they confirm this candidate’s heroic virtue, then they proclaim the candidate as venerable, which means he/she is a role model for Catholic virtue.
Activity: Discuss the virtues in light of the messages in the book. The Catechism (1803-1829) provides the clearest explanation of the virtues. Older students can read them and discuss. For younger students, you can simplify the explanations. Always provide concrete examples.
Step 3. Beatification involves the Congregation for the Cause of Saints confirming a miracle that occurred after the venerable candidate’s death, which happened by intercession to that saint.
Activity: Show this ABC news report to learn the process and the first confirmed miracle which has led to John Paul II’s beatification. The miracle came from a French saint who was cured of Parkinson’s disease.
Step 4: Sainthood requires another miracle through the beatified candidates intercession, after the date of beatification.
An extra activity: John Paul II’s beatification will be announced May 1, on the Feast of Divine Mercy.
- Teach your students how to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
- For older students, read Pope John Paul’s words at the canonization of St. Maria Faustina, a cause he advanced throughout his papacy.
- Also read Pope John Paul’s sermon at the first celebration of Mercy Sunday.
- Discuss why the Church has selected May 1 for John Paul’s beatification.
End the lesson, model the three forms of prayer: Help them to thank God for the lives of such saints. Develop the spiritual practice of asking for intercession to Jesus and with the help of His saints. Praise God for the Communion of Saints are there for our help:
Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 956).
JPII, we (continue to) love you!