Remembering JP II
John Paul II
from the Generalate
from the Provinces
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
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
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