Sunday, April 2nd, will mark the first anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s entry into Eternal Life. Last year, it seemed that the world stood for still for a week as some five million mourners, most of them young people, streamed into Rome to pay their last respects and offer grateful prayers for this pilgrim pope. His legacy of clear and confident teachings will continue to enrich and inspire the Church for centuries to come. His constant exhortation, “Be not afraid”, has inspired Catholics everywhere, especially the young, to “put out into the deep” and embark on a New Evangelization in a stormy and uncertain world.
As a bishop he attended each of the sessions of the Second Vatican Council. As Pope, through his many writings and sermons, he 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 is, 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.
During the funeral rites last year, a gust of wind blew shut the Book of the Gospels which had been laid opened on his simple wooden casket providentially symbolizing the closing of a significant chapter in our Catholic Church’s 2000 year history. Banners that dotted the Mass of humanity gathered in St. Peter’s Square and beyond on that day fluttered in that same wind and proclaimed: Santo Subito! (Sainthood Now!).
He himself canonized more saints than any Pope in history and did so to underscore the fact that it is holiness which expresses best the mystery of the Church. Holiness is, he taught us, “a message that convinces without need for words and is a living reflection of the face of Christ.” John Paul II, in his word and in his life, has given us a message that is convincing, a message of hope, a message about Jesus Christ, the source of our hope.
Santo Subito! Today, one year later, this expression of the vox populi is echoed throughout the world as countless numbers of the faithful fervently pray for the canonization of this Servant of God who in a time of turmoil and uncertainty confidently led the Church into the third millennium.