Pope John Paul II has entered into Eternal Rest after a long and fruitful ministry as priest and bishop in his native Poland and for 26 years as Pope, the bishop of Rome and the universal pastor of the Catholic Church. Our grateful prayers have accompanied this Pilgrim Pope as he reached the end of his earthly pilgrimage. He is with God and the Virgin Mary and all the saints. His legacy remains and will continue to enrich and teach the Church which he led to the dawn of a new millennium. His constant exhortation, “Be not afraid”, has inspired Catholics everywhere, especially the young, to “put out into the deep” (Duc in altum, Luke 5:4) and thus “to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm, and to look forward to the future with confidence.”
As a bishop he attended each of the sessions of the Second Vatican Council. As Pope, through his many writings and sermons, he has outlined and promoted the Council’s authentic implementation emphasizing the universal call to holiness of all the faithful, an anthropology open to transcendence, and what could be called “the theology of the gift”, that happiness and the fulfillment of man’s deepest aspirations is found not by seeking self but through the gift of self.
By fearlessly preaching the gospel, “in season and out of season”, he embraced the world convinced that the Church would be faithful to her mission neither by fleeing from the world nor by surrendering to it but by engagement with the world. His was the path of dialogue. The Church he was convinced had something to say, a Word to share. And that Word was Jesus Christ. On the first day of his pontificate in October 1978, he began by challenging the Church and the world: “Be not afraid to open the doors to Christ!” He was not an uncertain trumpeter: because of his witness, because of his courage, doors were not only opened but walls came tumbling down. (cf. Joshua)
A man of many gifts, John Paul II brought to the papacy great human qualities and profound spiritual virtues. He was an intellectual who nevertheless could preach with the common touch of a parish priest. He was a man of great discipline exercising almost superhuman control of a frail and sick body to continue his mission and to be present to his flock. He was also a man of prayer able to summon deep powers of concentration and recollection in order to contemplatively and mystically commune with God. History will probably regard this pope with a title given to only two others and thus he will be remembered in time as John Paul the Great. And the Church, in her own good time, through the ministry of another successor to St. Peter, will, as he did with so many during his pontificate, raise him to the altars and canonize him as Saint Pope John Paul II.
The shoes of the Fisherman now lie empty. The Holy Spirit working through the Cardinals in Conclave will provide someone to fill them. The Church will not remain widowed for long. But whoever accedes to the throne of Peter will have big shoes indeed to fill.