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Remembering JP II

Remembering JP II

Pope John Paul II

Karol Wojtyla

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Successor of Paul, Apostle to the Nations

Memorial Mass for Pope John Paul II

Collegio del Verbo Divino, Rome
7 April 2005

Readings: Ap 21:1-7 / Mt 28:1-10

arly in the morning this week, some of us went to visit the tomb. The guards were not just a handful. And they were not, as the Gospel reading puts it, terrified. Indeed, they were alert and in command. There were also the youth. Not just one "young man in a white robe" (Mk 16:5), but millions of young people with their backpacks. The guards did not have to ask us: "Whom do you seek?" They knew from the beginning that we came to see Pope John Paul II. And we found him in the basilica. At least his earthly remains. Because he himself had returned to the house of the Father and now shares the resurrection with his Lord.

But who was John Paul II? During the last days, much has been said, and in the coming days, even much more will be said about him - about his life, his pontificate, his death. I don't know if tonight we need to say anything more and only add to what is already a flood of words. So perhaps tonight a short reflection on this Pope will be sufficient - a reflection, that is, from our point of view as SVDs. Who was John Paul II for us SVD's? Who was John Paul II, seen with "SVD eyes"?

In this context, I would employ an expression used by a journalist during the last days and suggest the image of John Paul II as successor not only of Peter, the first pastor, but also of Paul, the great missionary. Thus, a short reflection on the commitment to mission of this Pope who, as he himself said upon his election 26 years ago, was a Pope who originates from afar.

Firstly, John Paul II's commitment to mission in his activities and actions. One can immediately think here of the many trips he made to several parts of the world. According to one source, 95 trips in all to about 130 countries. Experts say these trips amount to traveling around the world 29 times. The figure of Paul and his many missionary journeys easily comes to mind. The Acts of the Apostles speak about his journeys creating and encouraging local churches in the early years of Christianity. But perhaps even more important than this is the dialogue with other religions and other Christian churches which John Paul II promoted. He was the first Pope to visit a Jewish synagogue, the first Pope to enter a Muslim mosque, the first Pope to preach in a Protestant church. This openness to other religions reached its peak with his invitation to all leaders of the world religions for a celebration of a "Day of Peace" in Assisi in 1986 and 2002. And exactly like Paul, he spoke in the various Areopagi of the contemporary world - in the United Nations, in the Italian Parliament, in Auschwitz, at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, to the youth in several celebrations of the World Youth Day. He also took up the defense of the poor and the suffering in Africa, Latin America and Asia. And, of more relevance to us SVD's, he canonized three missionary saints whom he called "three champions of evangelization" - Daniel Comboni, Arnold Janssen and Joseph Freinademetz.

Secondly, John Paul II's commitment to mission in his teaching and writings. Here one should mention especially his encyclical "Redemptoris Missio" which underlines "the permanent validity of the the missionary mandate of the church". I know that some elements of this encyclical do not find approval among some in the Catholic Church and among several members of the other religions and the Christian churches. But I believe this encyclical has given a fresh push to "ad gentes" mission in the new millennium. His other writings, too, always make a reference to the participation of all in the mission of the church - the christian family, the laity, consecrated men and women, the priests, the bishops, the youth. He spoke of a new springtime for the mission of the church (RM 2) and, in his homily at the canonization of the three missionary saints, he insisted "that the proclamation of the Gospel constitutes 'the primary service that the church can render to every individual and to all humanity' (RM 2)".

Thirdly, John Paul II's commitment of mission in his vision of the church and of the world. An important aspect of John Paul II's missionary commitment is his having opened up the church even more to the world. This openness of the church to the world was a fundamental insight of Vatican II. We find it especially in the conciliar document "Gaudium et Spes", in the drafting of which, it is said, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla collaborated. John Paul II's pontificate was inspired by this conciliar intuition. He had a vision of the church as a community profoundly involved with the affairs of the world, a church never separated from nor closed to the world, a church which collaborates with others in the defense of human rights and in the creation of a new culture of peace, solidarity and communion. His first encyclical already indicated this direction. "Redemptor Hominis" placed the human person at the center of the attention and service of the church. In his inaugural address, he pronounced the now unforgettable words: "Do not be afraid. Open your doors to Christ. Indeed, break open your doors to Christ!" This openness of the church to the world and of the world to the church was a consistent theme of John Paul II's pontificate. It was also the center of his commitment to mission. And, as it were, he closed the circle with his apostolic letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte" with the words, "Duc in Altum" (Put out into the deep).

In this perspective, John Paul II seemed to embrace the whole world. Thus, his influence was felt not only on the church but also on the world. He seemed to have exercised a responsibility not just in the church but also outside the church, that is, in civil society. He was seen not just as the leader of the Catholic Church but also as a world leader. And the world responded positively, adopting him as a citizen of the world and accepting him as the moral voice in the world. And so, when he died six days ago, the whole world felt a certain emptiness. In the words of Cardinal Angelo Sodano at the mass on the day after he died, "the whole world feels orphaned". And tomorrow his funeral will be an occasion for a gathering of the whole world.

This catholic and universal vision of John Paul II finds an echo in the readings of today - in "the new heaven and a new earth" of the first reading and in "the first day of the week" of the resurrection of the Gospel reading. And, as Cardinal Carmillo Ruini said in the mass celebrated the evening before the Pope died, John Paul II already now sees and touches this new world of the Apocalypse, this new day of the resurrection.

In the end, however, we shall not have said anything about John Paul II if we did not say anything about his faith in Christ - this faith in Christ which was the foundation of all that he did and taught. It was a faith - if our beloved Polish confreres would allow me to say - that was characteristically Polish. That is, a faith which was firm, fierce, and faithful. As we know, John Paul II did not want to resign as Pope, even despite the state of his health, because "Christ did not come down his cross". Thus, a faith to the very end. A faithfulness until death.

So, we could say that at 21:37 of Saturday, 2 April 2005, the Lord himself led John Paul II down his cross. The Lord seemed to have said to his faithful servant: "Enough, John Paul II. You have served well, you have suffered enough." Then he was laid in the arms of Mary, to whom he was completely devoted ("Totus tuus") and in the arms of his young people who kept vigil with him the whole night at St. Peter's Square. And so, the following day, the second Sunday of Easter, he began to share the new life of the Risen Lord.

Godspeed, John Paul II. And thank you. Thank you for having been with us as the successor of Peter and Paul. Thank you for having been for us the pastor of the whole church and the apostle to all peoples. May you hear the words of the Lord: "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Master" (Mt 25:21).

Antonio M. Pernia, SVD
Superior General