.- In their own words, two old friends of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Rabbi Elio Toaff of Rome, are both happy for the recognition of his life through his coming beatification.
On Jan. 14, Benedict XVI signed an official decree recognizing the holiness of his predecessor, a major step on the late-Pope's path to sainthood. On the same day, the Vatican announced that the beatification would be celebrated the Sunday after Easter, which is observed as Divine Mercy Sunday in the Catholic Church.
Since the announcement, excitement has been building and people from all over the globe such as his former personal secretary Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz and Knights of Columbus chief Carl Anderson have expressed their happiness.
Two especially important figures in the life of Venerable John Paul II have now added their voices to the chorus of praise being offered for their friend.
At the Angelus on Jan. 16, Pope Benedict XVI announced the news to people gathered in St. Peter's Square. "Dear brothers and sisters, as you know, next May 1 I will have the joy of proclaiming Venerable John Paul II, my loved predecessor, "Blessed."
The date, Divine Mercy Sunday, is "very significant” because it is at once a day proclaimed by John Paul II himself and also "the eve on which he finished his earthly life."
"All who knew him, all who esteemed and loved him," said the Pope, "cannot but rejoice with the Church for this event."
Speaking moments later in Polish, he told Poles that he shares in their joy over the chance to recognize their countryman. "This news was much awaited by all and, particularly, by you, for whom my venerable predecessor was a guide in faith, truth and liberty."
Benedict XVI hoped that they would undertake a "profound spiritual preparation" for the spring beatification.
Joining the Pope in expressing his happiness for the announcement was the retired Chief Rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff.
According to Italy's La Stampa, the rabbi reacted to the news with joy. "Clearly the beatification is a fact internal to the Catholic Church," he said. "In any case, it is a recognition of a great Pope and a great man who I knew very well. And this cannot give me anything but pleasure."
Rabbi Toaff was the head of the Jewish community from 1951 – 2001, which coincided in large part with John Paul II's pontificate from 1978 - 2005.
In a report on Sunday morning, Vatican Radio recalled his brotherly relationship with the pontiff which began with a private meeting in Rome in 1981. John Paul II later made a historic visit by invitation of the rabbi to the Synagogue of Rome in April 1986, a big step in Jewish-Catholic relations in the city and in the world.
As Pope Benedict recalled in a message to the rabbi for his birthday last May, the two religious leaders shared a commitment to dialogue and a "sincere friendship."