Pope John XXIII, who will be canonized by Pope Francis on Sunday, holds a special place in the history of Catholics here.

Bishop Robert W. Muench said it was Pope John XXIII who established the Diocese of Baton Rouge on April 23, 1961.

In addition, Muench called the canonization of Pope John Paul II, also on Sunday, “a source of great joy to all people of religious belief and good will.”

In a statement, the bishop said, “The canonization of Blessed John XXIII appropriately validates the person and ministry of this humble, unassuming man of God, of the Church, of the world and of the people.

“When he was elected, the ‘pundits’ concluded he was chosen to be a mere ‘caretaker’ of the Church, following the lengthy pontificate of Pope Pius XII.

“He was said to be a ‘safe’ choice who wouldn’t ‘rock the boat.’ Appealing in personality, he won the affection of not only the Church, but the world community. His encyclical, ‘Pacem in Terris,’ challenged the world community to live in peace and harmony.

“How much he stunned those pundits when he made the call for Vatican Council II. Through historic sessions, concluded under Pope Paul VI, the Catholic bishops of the world and others were convened to ‘open the windows.’

“He also demonstrated a great sense of humor. Once, when asked: ‘How many people work in the Vatican?’, he unhesitatingly and famously answered: ‘About half.’”

Muench said when he was ordained in 1968, “I had a card printed for the First Mass celebration in which I quoted the Holy Father: ‘When people are animated by the love of Christ, they feel united, and the needs, sufferings and joys of others are felt as their own.’ Many have rightly referred to this holy, saintly man as ‘the Good Pope John XXIII.’”

The bishop noted that Pope John Paul II traveled the world, including a visit to New Orleans in September 1987, where Muench, then a monsignor, was assigned by Archbishop Philip Hannan to oversee hospitality.

Muench said the visit was highlighted by an outdoor Mass at the University of New Orleans attended by hundreds of thousands of people in the rain.

The bishop said Pope John Paul II’s life “was marked by unwavering faith, prodigious hope and consummate love. Centered on Christ, reliant upon the intercession of the Blessed Mother and possessing a fearless dedication, John Paul II set an unparalleled standard of fidelity and excellence to God, the Church and the world.

“Constant in prayer, prolific in output, and tireless in energy, the accomplishments of John Paul II — through his acknowledged holiness, tremendous personal gifts, selfless service, voluminous writings, embrace of suffering and impressive pastoral visits throughout the world, including our own state of Louisiana — will forever mark him as a man specially sent by God to be a spiritual leader, faithful shepherd and prophetic voice. …

“I have no doubt that in history he will be referred as St. John Paul II the Great.”