The Gift of Christ’s Love for Humanity

cropped-pope-john-paul-II.jpgJohn Paul II

By virtue of its close relationship to the sacrifice of Golgotha, the Eucharist is a sacrifice in the strict sense, and not only in a general way, as if it were simply a matter of Christ’s offering himself to the faithful as their spiritual food. The gift of his love and obedience to the point of giving his life (cf. Jn 10:17-18) is in the first place a gift to his Father. Certainly it is a gift given for our sake, and indeed that of all humanity (cf. Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20; Jn 10:15), yet it is first and foremost a gift to the Father: “a sacrifice that the Father accepted, giving, in return for this total self-giving by his Son, who ‘became obedient unto death’ (Phil 2:8), his own paternal gift, that is to say the grant of new immortal life in the resurrection”.18

In giving his sacrifice to the Church, Christ has also made his own the spiritual sacrifice of the Church, which is called to offer herself in union with the sacrifice of Christ. This is the teaching of the Second Vatican Council concerning all the faithful: “Taking part in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, which is the source and summit of the whole Christian life, they offer the divine victim to God, and offer themselves along with it”.

Ecclesia de Eucharistia, n.13

The Miracle, A Great Mystery: a Sign for New Life

2by Sr. Marie Simon-Pierre

My name is little Sr. Marie Simon Pierre. This name was given to me upon my entrance in Novitiate with the Little Sisters of the Catholic Maternities on July 6, 1983. My baptismal name, Marie Pierre, was already the name of another sister, and given that all the sisters carry the name of the Virgin Mary, it was sufficient for me to simply add Simon to my name, which I accepted with joy. Our founders, Monsignor Guerry and Mother Marie John-Baptist, having given us a spirituality within the Church, founded our Religious Institute of Apostolic Life, which is now 81 years old, in a profound love for the Church. Our vocation-mission allows us to contemplate an aspect of the benevolent plan of the Heavenly Father upon our family from the moment in which it was begun. We, as Catholic Maternities serve life at its beginning: young couples and young families -an apostolate which we accomplish with the help of many lay people.

I worked  at the time as a nurse with mothers and their newborn and it was therefore, in order to continue to serve and work in this sector, that my religious family implored the grace of my healing from Parkinson’s, by which I had been effected since 2001. We had hoped that a healing of this kind might have served to advance the beatification of John Paul II because he had profoundly influenced our Institute with his teachings. We profoundly admired our Pope, having recognized him as a Shepherd according to the heart of God. This miraculous healing was a blessing for our whole Institute, a blessing which we accepted with great humility. To announce, serve and celebrate the Gospel of life – this is the sense of our apostolate and life.

Having been sick since 2001, I had accepted in the depths of my soul, the reality of one day being confined to a wheelchair: my religious consecration would not have been weakened in any way however. Nothing, not even illness could keep me from living it fully. This prospective did not worry me: “Do not be afraid”, John Paul II had said. Had he not also suffered and given his life to the end?

On June 2, 2011, six years will have passed since my miraculous healing and the end of every medical treatment. This radical change was verified in my sick body only two months after the death of John Paul II. I rapidly was able to return to normal life. I reassumed once more all of my former activity. I can even write without the least difficulty. I can also drive again and even at long distances. For me, it has been like a ‘second birth’ and a ‘new life’. Nothing is the same as before. My spiritual life has also been renewed – it is much more profound. I am even more attracted to the Eucharist and to time spent in Eucharistic Adoration as well as with the Rosary which never leaves me. On the 2nd of each month, at 9:00 p.m., I remain in prayer before the tabernacle to thank God for the great deed has worked in me.

From 2006-2010, I had to take various medical examinations. I accepted to submit to these costly procedures for love of John Paul II and my Institute. It was at times difficult to manage everything – between community life and duties amidst last minute appointments in different locations, but I lived this period in prayer and obedience. Without the trust that motivated me, everything would have been difficult to live. From the moment in which I accepted the whole Congregation prayed through the intercession of Pope John Paul II for my healing, I always said that I would have continued through the whole procedure, whatever it might take, if our prayers were answered.

Yes, through to the end, if it meant that John Paul II might be recognized as Blessed and then one day as a Saint. Through to the end for the Church and so that the world might believe. Right up to the end so that life might be respected and so that all those who work in service to life receive encouragement. Our native France must not lose its roots. I hope that young men and women recognize the greatness of life, the beauty of matrimony and the consecrated life, and that Christian doctors, gynecologists and obstetricians might work hard at our side.

That the Lord has allowed me to live through the intercession of John Paul II is a great mystery, difficult to explain with words. Today more than ever I remain a Little Sister of the Catholic Maternities. I want to continue to serve Christ through the families whom we meet in our Maternities and serve the value of life in simplicity and joy. The Lord grant me also the love and the attention necessary towards the littlest, the most fragile, those whom the world refuses so often, like those children with handicaps, for whom John Paul II had nurtured so much love. I carry in my consecration in a particular way, all those persons who are afflicted by the scourge of Parkinson’s or other painful illness, and who ask prayers from our religious family.

The Venerable John Paul II will be proclaimed Blessed on May 1st, Divine Mercy Sunday. Towards him we must turn for an example, who with his life has showed us the path of holiness. May we emulate the tenderness of his own eyes and seek to discover in the depths of misery, where the heart of God lies and loves each and every person in the fullness of their dignity.

John Paul II the Theologian from the Mountains

by Alberto Maria Careggio *

juan-pablo-II-montanaFrom the very first moment he was elected, John Paul II appeared as a Pope with a new style. One cannot forget his appearance from the loggia of the Vatican Basilica that October 16th 1978, the way he raised his arms, greeted the crowd, his first words… Everything indicated that this would be a special pontificate.

He managed to encounter the contemporary world without losing any of his own authority, without renouncing in any way his mission as the universal pastor, coherently exercising his role as pontiff with clarity and fidelity to the Gospel, making his one of the greatest pontificates of our time. The originality of John Paul II’s teachings can be found is his bringing to light the spirituality of “time”. Illuminated by the mystery of the Incarnation, this “theological place” intensely transcends via the passion of Christ, both divine and human history.

This explains how fidelity to Jesus Christ, in the present moment of every day, was expressed by John Paul II through an inevitable struggle against any disruptive force that would separate man from the harmonious development of his potential. Thisacquiredthe feature ofamoreintensemovementof spiritual elevationthat struck a chord with the mountaineer in both theyoungpriestfrom Krakow and thePope,a symbolic representation of climbingthe mountains. Indeed as his soul was raised and encouraged as he ascended the peaks, so he was strengthened by confronting the problems of the world and testing his personal limits, including, ultimately his illness and death.

In addition to the variousattributes he has been given, the”Holy Warrior”, the “No GlobalPope”, “the AthleteofGod”, the “universal Master”, “The Catechistof theworld”, “the Great “, “The pupil of theresurrection”, to mention but a few, I would like to add “Man of thesummits” and “Theologian ofthemountain”, as we recall his figure on our Alpine glaciers.

As he gazed from Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe, he travelled the world. He ascended these peaks with confidence, taking in their bold, shimmering peaks, stopping more to internalise his emotions than to catch his breath.

John Paul II answered his vocation to “rise to the top” with energy and courage, always open to witness to the beauty of God’s creation that is found in the heart of every man. Totally immersed in God, his were indeed mystical ascensions, and the physical effort mirrored effort required to break away from the trappings of the world.

His was, therefore, a response to the need which arises in the heart of every contemporary man. During his Alpine visits he was able to gain the strength necessary to fight any temptation to lower himself, to level flat any “weak thoughts”.

John Paul II’s whole life was a battle against a certain modern train of thought that proposed, willingly and often, narrow horizons, the prison of materialism that neither knew how nor wished to life it’s vision away from the limits of the earth. Thus, he who said “our eyes are not satisfied by admiring mountains, our hearts must ascend further” has called all men to open the door to Christ; young people to discover the ascent of the spirit, married people to open themselves to the joy of family life, the old to pass from life to life, the sick and suffering to climb to Calvary, knowing and remembering that the cross must be confronted.

What is the significance of the beatification of John Paul II? It could be the positive result of the extraordinary popularity that marked his long pontificate, the heroism of his whole life, starting from the Bolshevik persecution of his youth. One must not forget the objective virtue, both lived and practiced to the highest degree, which has been confirmed by the mass of documents presented to the Positio. I think that the official recognition of the Church, and of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, is a direct response to the divine intercessions of Blessed John Paul II, both in terms of doctrinal and pastoral significance, as the Second Vatican Council put it “fully and integrally implemented.”

Now that John Paul II has been recognised as worthy to be venerated as Blessed, there is not a person who met, saw or spoke with him that is not rejoicing. This is without doubt, one of the many expressions of the “communion of Saints” in which the Church believes and which, by the grace of God, enters Her living fabric to edify and confirm Her.

* Bishop of Ventimiglia – San Remo

Pope Wojtyła «led Me down the Road of Prayer»

by Christoph Graf *

During the middle of the 1980’s I took a serious look at my future. I had a secure job with the Swiss Post Office and enjoyed my work. My life was developing well, but solely around my career and money, and I did not know how I could spend the next forty years working in a post office. I can honestly say that I was a practicing Catholic. On 2nd March 1987, searching for a new direction for my future, I packed my bags and headed for Rome to serve in the Pontifical Swiss Guards. During the first three weeks my colleagues and I, the new recruits, intensively prepared for serving at the Vatican City. Following those intense weeks, Sunday’s off were easily and happily spent on myself and my needs.

jp2_ban

On one of these days I went out with my colleagues to do a bit of sightseeing in Rome. We were walking down the Corso Vittorio Emanuele when we were stopped by a police car with flashing lights and a wailing siren. We all waited at the side of the road to see which important person was receiving a police escort. And there he was, in a black Mercedes, John Paul II being escorted at high speed back to the Vatican City after a pastoral visit. It was the first time I saw the Pope

With training finished I was finally able to don the distinctive uniform and start work. One day I was working in the Apostolic Palace; I knew that the Holy Father had celebrated Mass in the Pauline Chapel with the seminarians of his diocese. After the Mass there would be an audience with the participants in the Sala Regia. I was the officer placed behind the line of preists to oversee their exit down the Scala Regia.

John Paul II walked down the line of priests, greeting some of them individually. I watched the scene with interest and was glad to be so close to the Holy Father. As he approached where I was standing, a gap suddenly appeared in the line and I found myself standing directly in front of him. During training I had been taught that a Swiss Guard should never introduce himself or speak to the Pope. The seminarians turned to see me and smiled. I was confused and did not know what to do. And so it was he who came to me, greeted me with a smile and gave me his hand before moving on. I was incredibly happy with to have personally met him for the first time. Over the successive years I met him again on many occasions. It was a joy to see him and be near him every time.

I was sworn into the Swiss Guard on the 6th of May 1987, on this occasion I was able to introduce my parents to the Pope. Is there any one of us who would ever have thought that we would find ourselves standing in front of, and speaking to, the Vicar of Christ?! Even though the meeting was short, we knew he was a man who made time for other people. I witnessed this many, many times.

He loved people and loved to be with people. Age, origin and social position meant nothing to him. He especially loved meeting with children, young people and the sick. I especially noticed how children, screaming at the top of their voices, would become clam and peaceful as he touched and blessed them. He also blessed married couples with great affection. My wife, Brigida, and I received the papal blessing in 2001. A year later the Lord gave us a daughter who we baptised Irene. We were able to meet the Holy Father again during an audience for the families of the Swiss Guards, this time our whole family was blessed. Francesco was born in 2008.

A decisive event in the life of John Paul II was when he fell at home in 1994. Walking was becoming difficult for him, especially climbing stairs. Unfortunately he often seemed sad and tense. This could also have been because he was unable to meet with pilgrims during the General Audiences as he one had. But he also knew that he would never miss one.

Unquestionably, one of the most extraordinary experiences was the Jubilee Year of 2000. During this year, I accompanied the Holy Father, for the first time, on an overseas trip. In total I made three trips with him, each one held a particular significance for me. The first was to Fatima for the Beatification of Giancita and Francesco. Once again I was able to see how many people the Pope was able to mobilise. Over a million pilgrims came. Of special importance was being able to meet Sister Lucia.

The second trip was to his home, Krakow. He knew that this would be his last visit to his home land. It was touching to see how he said goodbye to his home, stopping at places that were important to him.

I also had the honour of accompanying the Holy Father on his last pastoral visit, to the Sanctuary at Lourdes. It was a trip marked by illness. The image of the suffering Pope, greeting the old and infirm who had come from all over the world, giving them courage, will always remain with me.

I was also able to share the intensity of his death. I was on duty, in St Peters Square and seeing something extraordinary. The whole piazza was full of the faithful of every age, praying. They were praying for our beloved Pope John Paul II who was dying.

John Paul II led and accompanied me in my life of prayer and faith. I will always be thankful for the moments I was able to live with him because, through him, I was able to feel closeness with God.

* Deputy Commander of the Pontifical Swiss Guards

Contemplating the Eucharist through the Eyes of Mary

Alberto Pacini*

Virgen-Maria-y-EucaristiaEcclesia de eucharistia vivit… appears conclusively as the motto of a long discourse that lasted a pontificate; one could even say a life. The final encyclical of the Pontificate of John Paul II showed the Church of the contemporary world the path it should take in order to ensure its security in the new millennium. John Paul II spent his entire pontificate with the Eucharist: celebrating, adoring and contemplating through the eyes of Mary. The wholetheologyof thepost-Council has been conductedwith greatemphasisbyhimtoexplainhisfaith in the Eucharist, in the realpresenceof Godin thesacredspeciesofbreadandwine. His pontificate saw John Paul II diving in concentric circles, centred in the Eucharist, deeper and deeper into the mysteries of church life. Every aspect of the humanity of the Church draws our gaze towards Christ, truly present in the Eucharist.

These wordsseemto summarise a little thethrillof hisheart in love with the Eucharist and with the VirginMother: «I would like to rekindle this Eucharistic “amazement” by the present Encyclical Letter, in continuity with the Jubilee heritage which I have left to the Church in the Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte and its Marian crowning, Rosarium Virginis Mariae. To contemplate the face of Christ, and to contemplate it with Mary, is the “programme” which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium, summoning her to put out into the deep on the sea of history with the enthusiasm of the new evangelization. To contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize him wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of his body and his blood. The Church draws her life from Christ in the Eucharist; by him she is fed and by him she is enlightened. The Eucharist is both a mystery of faith and a “mystery of light”. Whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the faithful can in some way relive the experience of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Lk 24:31).”» (Ecclesia de Eucharistia 6)

Captivated by the atmosphere that we breathed throughout John Paul II’s long pontificate and above all desiring to put into practice his prayer for the new millennium (cfr Novo Millennio Ineunte 38), we, at the Basilica of St’Anastasia in Rome, have, from the last days of the Great Jubilee to this day, perpetual adoration in our church. From this church, which remained silent for 30 years of restoration, a wave of evangelisation has flowed. It has reached the coasts of Italy, attracting more than forty sisters, and has flowed into Africa, Latin America and Asia. I myself, embodying these valuable insights, have seen the polar star of my priesthood which has now been refocused exclusively in one direction, a new Eucharistic evangelization.

Many preists, religious and lay people, both in Italy and around the world, are following the same route and are seeing their communities regenerated by the centrality of the Eucharist, celebrated, adored and contemplated through the eyes of Mary.

A great Eucharistic movement is active in Italy. It was inspired by the words of John Paul II and is encouraged by Benedict XVI. It is consolidating its position in a more Eucharistic Church, capable of becoming missionary in a secular world that still desperately seeks God.

And so we can conclude with John Paul II: «Let us take our place, dear brothers and sisters, at the school of the saints, who are the great interpreters of true Eucharistic piety. In them the theology of the Eucharist takes on all the splendour of a lived reality; it becomes “contagious” and, in a manner of speaking, it “warms our hearts”. Above all, let us listen to Mary Most Holy, in whom the mystery of the Eucharist appears, more than in anyone else, as a mystery of light. Gazing upon Mary, we come to know the transforming power present in the Eucharist. In her we see the world renewed in love. Contemplating her, assumed body and soul into heaven, we see opening up before us those “new heavens” and that “new earth” which will appear at the second coming of Christ. Here below, the Eucharist represents their pledge, and in a certain way, their anticipation: “Veni, Domine Iesu!”» (EE 62) Let us emulate thisveryholyPope, following his example, imitating his passion, his zeal, his life.

*Rector of Sant’Anastasia on the Palatino Hill, Rome.

John Paul II: Spirit of Prayer – Spirit of Life

by Card. Tomáš Špidlík, S.J.*

We expect every Pope to preserve and protect the heredity of our faith.  Even now, and especially after the death of John Paul II, the question arises: What did his pontificate bring to the Church?

John Paul II’s personality was truly universal.  This fact is made clear by his travels, his audiences, and most eloquently by his funeral.  That event really was a “sign of the times.”  The crowds of young people that descended upon Rome for the occasion demonstrated just how ardently the younger generations desire to meet with a person in whom they can trust.  This consideration leads us to an even deeper one: sooner or later you will identify yourself with that one whom you talk to most often and most intimately.  There is no doubt that for John Paul II, God was this interlocutor.  He knew how to pray privately and how to pray with those whom he met.  It was this that lifted him up and transformed his humanity.  The great mystery of our faith is that man can become like God and yet remain perfectly a man: this is the mystery of Christ.  And we participate in it, we are called to become divine through grace.  For this reason, the Pope did not write only encyclicals and letters, but he also left us written prayers for us to receive as his spiritual testament.

We can say that the foundational principle that inspired John Paul II’s Christological teaching is the firm conviction that without intimate union with the Person of Christ, eternally living, man cannot reach a correct attitude toward God or true religion, nor can he understand his own individual or corporate humanity, much less his place in the cosmos.

The Pope contemplates Jesus first under the aspect of the One who prays to the Father and who also leads us to Him through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “In our life as well, as in Jesus’ own life, the Holy Spirit manifests himself and the Spirit of prayer.  The Apostle Paul tells us the same thing very eloquently in a passage from the Letter to the Galatians…that you are sons (of God) is shown by the fact that God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba!  Father!’” (Gal 4, 6).  In a certain respect, therefore, the Holy Spirit places in our hearts the prayer of the Son, who directs that cry to the Father.  Even our prayer, then, is an expression of our “filial adoption” that is given to us in Christ and through Christ (cf. Rom 8, 15).  Prayer is our faithful awareness of the truth that we are sons and heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ.  Prayer allows us to live this supernatural reality thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit who bears witness with our spirit (Rom 8, 16-17).”

The great majority of the prayers that John Paul II composed and recited are prayers addressed to Our Lady.  They are a characteristic sign of his piety.  Turning to the Queen of Heaven and speaking of Her in every occasion, John Paul II highlights above all three great Marian privileges: Her sublime union with the Divine Persons exercised through prayer, the immaculate purity of Her life, and Her universal protection of mankind and of the whole universe.  We can credit our Holy Father with the fact that he managed to teach us in a special way how the via aurea of Christian sanctification is especially clear in the Mother of God.  He showed us how Marian devotion is an organic part of every mystical consideration of the Most Holy Trinity.

Hearing the voice of God and responding to it with generosity is one part of the picture.  There is revealed to man another aspect of this great mystery: God too hears man’s words and satisfies his desires.  But how is it that certain prayers are answered and others are not?  The Pope explains this mystery in his own particular way and with pregnant brevity: “Mary is the model of the Church’s prayer.  It is highly probable that Mary was rapt in prayer when the Angel Gabriel entered the house of Nazareth and greeted Her.  This context of prayer certainly supported the Blessed Virgin in her reply to the Angel and in her generous adherence to the mystery of the Incarnation.  In the scene of the Annunciation, artists almost always depict Mary in a posture of prayer.  Blessed Fra’Angelico comes immediately to mind.  The Church and every believer draws from these images an indication of the the atmosphere that should mark our devotion.  We can add that Mary represents for the People of God the paradigm of every expression of the life of prayer.  In particular, She teaches Christians how to turn to God to ask His help in the various situations of our life.”

From this there follows the fundamental object of Mary’s prayer and also that of Jesus’ prayer: the salvation of the world.  “Mary appears, moreover, as the supreme model of personal participation in the divine mysteries.  She guides the Church in meditating upon the mystery she celebrates and in her participation of the event of salvation, promoting within the faithful the desire for an intimate personal involvement with Christ in order to cooperate with His own offering of His own life for the salvation of the world.”

In the ancient expressions of prayer, alongside “Listen!” there is also “Welcome, Deign to receive!”  One offered to the divinity a gift, a sacrifice.  In the Christian sense, the one unique gift that the Father in Heaven receives is the same sacrifice that Jesus made of Himself.  And what about Mary?  “The Blessed Virgin, for her part, is for the Church the very model of generous participation in the sacrifice.  In the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, and above all at the Foot of the Cross, Mary brought about her gift of self that united the Mother with the suffering and trials of the Son.  So too in daily life, even as in the Eucharistic celebration, the Blessed Virgin offering herself (cf. Marialis cultus n. 20) encourages Christians to offer spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God through Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Peter 2, 5).”

To whom, then, should we direct our faithful prayer?  The Pope tells us: “I trust in the Father, rich in mercy, and in the Son of God made man as our redeemer and reconciler.  I trust in the Holy Spirit, wellspring of unity and peace.  This is my appeal as a father and pastor…I also invite all of you to turn with me to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Mother of Jesus, in whom was effected God’s reconciliation with humanity…Into the hands of this Mother, whose fiat signaled the beginning of the fullness of time, I entrust this special intention: that, by Her intercession, humanity itself will discover and run along the path of penitence, the only path that will lead it to full reconciliation.”

In conclusion, the life and pastoral activity of John Paul II unfolded in a time of widespread and often violently propagated atheism.  He suffered the serious consequences of this even in his personal life.  Right from the start, therefore, he had to ask himself how believers could defend themselves and preserve their faith or even their lives, the lives of individuals as well as the life of Christian societies and nations.  Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando.  In this battle, everyone took up the weapons at his disposal.  The Pope showed his weapons to the world, weapons that were more effective than all the others: how beautiful it is to believe in God, understood in the full Christian sense, that wondrous unity of the three lovable Divine Persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  In a parallel fashion the mystery of Mary, the Mother of God, shows to the world how beautiful human life can be when it is completely penetrated with the divine mystery.  And we, for our part, sustained by this faith and supported by divine-human grace, we too are in a position to conquer the terrors of evil and to enjoy interior peace, consoled by the hope of eternal life.

All of this inspires us to make our own the following prayer of the heart: “We thank you, O Heavenly Father, through the Word who became flesh and came during the night in Bethlehem to dwell among us (cf. John 1, 14).  We thank you through the Word who communicates to us the most blessed reality of your own divinity… We thank you through the heredity of your grace, you who did not take away from man’s heart, but rather renewed it through the earthly nativity of your Son, so that we, by means of his Cross and Resurrection, might reclaim, from one generation to the next, the dignity of the children of God… We thank you through the maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary… We thank you through the wondrous exchange of the redemption of man and of the world… You, All-Powerful Lord, created everything through his name, You gave Him to mankind to be their food and drink… Look kindly, O Heavenly Father, upon those who are without joy and without security, those whose fundamental rights are denied to them; look upon this world with all its hopes and delusions, with all its impulses and unworthiness, with all its noble ideals and humiliating compromises… Help your Church to assist the poor, the marginalized, the suffering.  Guard and strengthen within the hearts of believers their  faith in You and the goodness they show to their brethren, their faith in your redeeming and saving power, their confidence in your forgiveness, and their abandonment to your Providence.”

*This article is taken from a study prepared by Cardinal Tomáš Špidlík, S.J., for the Cause for Beatification of John Paul II.  The author was born in Boskovice, the Diocese of Brno, Moravia, December 17, 1919, and died in Rome April 16, 2010.

«The Pope knew how to speak to Everybody and to unite Distant Worlds »

1by Lorena Bianchetti

“Do not be afraid”: I have tried to count how many times, John Paul II has pronounced this phrase in his speeches and I believe he did so probably more than 368 times.  A beacon, a witness, a great “daddy” able to love, forgive, live the joy and the suffering up till the end because he was sure that in human history, albeit at times marked by evil, the last word belonged to life, to love. “The Pope has to suffer, so that every family and the world see that there is a Gospel, I would say even more, the Gospel of Suffering”. This is what he said when he broke his right thighbone as he was returning to the Vatican. I remember the force with which he pronounced that phrase, the determination and the shiver that I felt within me.

He accepted the martyrdom of frailty and those words sprinkled so much truth. Words that serve as a source of oxygen for all those moments when pain and discomfort have tried to belittle me. John Paul II has lived every page of the Gospel and that look coming out of those darting eyes, continues to be an embrace and a point of reference for me. “Let the Gospel be the criterion that guides the choices and directions of your life. Like that you become missionaries with your gestures and words and, wherever you may work and live you shall become signs of the love of God, credible witnesses of the loving presence of Christ” (Toronto, World Youth Day).

And how could one renounce to a proposal of such beauty?! How is it possible that one does not struggle to become, in a world as that of communication and show business, an important instrument for the promotion of the dignity of the person, for which he fought so much? Is it possible not to live my profession not merely as a pure tickling to my ego, but in service to a good that is greater than me? John Paul II knew how to speak to everybody, he knew how to unite distant worlds, traditions and cultures. Son of the Vatican Council II, he spoke to the faithful, to believers of other religions and to all men and women of good will.

He reminded all that artist is an image of God and that to every man and woman there has been entrusted the task of being the maker of one’s life. In the letter to Artists, he said that every person should make of one’s own existence a work of art, a masterpiece. He, who in his youth had been an actor, knew how important it was to be “in the world but not of the world”. He invited us to bet on charity and his stake was on the attention of evaluating human work.

As a witness of hope and as a rock of faith he denounced the tragedies that many children go through, and I shall ever forget that Jubilee dedicated to them in which he remembered them as true heralds of peace. A young Pope, young at heart, in his spirit, in his way of thinking and being. I remember him at Tor Vergata as he waved to the rhythm with his hands up in the air during the singing, I remember him in the photo of his visit in prison as he listened to the person who had shot him. I see him surrounded by the mountains he so much cherished and as he prayed in front of the figure of the Blessed Virgin. I see him as he listens and smiles, as I hear him repeat his words in Havana that the wind, in a meeting of such intense faith, was a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. A wind that accompanied him and caressed him even in the days when he left us, on the day when, during the funeral, the pages of the Gospel flipped one after the other as if to sum up his earthly strides.

“Appassionate Defender of the Dignity of the Human Person”

by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi

In my study, where I spend the greater part of my day, on one of the shelves of my bookcase standing amidst a lifetime of favorite books, is a photograph of John Paul II and myself embracing; an embrace recognized only by a brushing of foreheads. I can’t hide the fact that for me that instant captured by the camera represents for me much more than just a memory. It is a picture which captures the profound sense of a spiritual understanding, of a sentiment of human similarity made evident from the first encounter with John Paul II. It was June 24, 1993. I was making an official visit as President of the Counsel of Ministers (Italian). Seated in front of one another, the visit lasted much longer than was anticipated by protocol. That first encounter or initial chat session took place in a manner which I immediately noted had something special about it.

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The Pope certainly underlined this by pointing out a few coincidences: the same year of birth and the same baptismal name, which placed both of us – these were his words which he repeated many times – under the protection of Saint Charles Borromeo. A few years later, in 1999, another coincidence was added: the election to the Presidency of the Republic on May 13th, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima and anniversary of the attack on the Holy Father in St. Peter’s Square.

In the quiet of my study, my thoughts often return to the unforgettable Pontif, “my big brother”, as I jokingly referred to him on account of the few months which separated us. I often gaze upon that embrace to ask for counsel, comfort, encouragement, and inner peace.

I consider this relationship with the Polish Pope as one of life’s most precious gifts. A certain propriety hides the more profound feelings and refrains me from breaking the veil of intimacy. At the same time however, it doesn’t restrict the desire to share the richness of that gift.

During the course of my presidential mandate, I always felt the closeness of John Paul II. I perceived his support: his paternal solicitude as Shepherd, his wise guidance and courageous and prophetic words, the message he communicated to the men and women of our times with unfailing determination. After the traditional address which the President of the Italian Republic is expected to make at the end of every year, the Holy Father was among the first to call. I remember with unchanged emotion his call of December 31, 2002. The television viewing had just ended when he called to say, “Thank you, it was very moving.” The next day, at Angelus, he renewed his gratitude publically.

The topic of my address had been “good government” – which presupposes stability, respect for the institutions and laws, moral public and private behavior, the overcoming of “factions and divisions for the greater good of Italy, so that Italians might be of one will”. This last part I had declared recalling the words of a priest who in the aftermath of the unification of Italy, had rendered honor to the martyrs of Belfiore. I had launched a wish for a greater sense of solidarity and spirit of cooperation. I had made a wish which drew strength from the words of the Pope pronounced shortly earlier at Montecitorio. He had in fact exhorted Italy to “better express her characteristic gifts.. to increase her solidarity and internal cohesion.”

Solidarity and cohesion, cornerstone of the national community; solidarity and cohesion, aspiration and commitment of all men of good will – even of the multitude of people who on every latitude and of every religious belief had sent the need to lend ear to the words of John Paul II. They were words of the Shepherd of the Universal Church, words of a passionate defender of the human person’s dignity and value.

John Paul II’s total dedication to the wellbeing of every single man and woman in the entire human family is sealed by his persistent and unconditional pursuit for peace. For the sake of peace, he had used all of his strength; his physical aspect, already threatened by illness, seemed to find its prior energy when he invoked the gift of peace, when he lifted his cry against war, against the irrationality of wars which materializes in mysterium iniquitatis.

I am certain that the memory of the encounter at Assisi remains indelibly in the minds and hearts of many. Certainly the remembrance of that day is impressed within me when I drew near to place the lamp upon the tripod. With emotion, the Head of the Italian State accepted the unusual and unexpected invitation given him by the Holy Father.

That gesture made by the representatives of various religious confessions, of placing the lamps, was not only particularly symbolic and suggestive, but it was also symbolized a desire to overcome, beyond any difficulty or contrasting division, those ‘impediments’ which obstacle the walk of humanity, that despite everything, aspires to the true Good in the depth of its being. That humanity in which it is observed – as stated by the Pope- “the eloquent convergence among the verses of Ovidio: I see the best and yet I turn towards the worst, and the cry of Saint Paul: We know in fact that the law is spiritual, but I am a being of flesh… I don’t accomplish the good that I want to, but I do the evil that I hate.”(1)

In the spirit of Assisi as also at the meeting with the youth at Tor Vergata (during World Youth Day 2000), there is left a sign of John Paul II – of his extraordinary intelligence which the mediation of the heart enriches and nurtures. Intelligence and heart – not antagonistic categories but ‘complementary’ virtues, were often the object of conversation around the frugal dining table of the Pope, where my wife and I had breakfast after the Mass which he celebrated – until his health allowed it – in his private chapel. Along with us at the Mass were also some religious Sisters and Monsignor Stanislaw. It is hard for me to find the words to express the richness and spiritual depth of those encounters – both extraordinary and simple at the same time. Afterwards, when he could no longer celebrate the Mass, he would invite us occasionally for lunch. By that time, the Pope communicated nearly only with nods of his head, but the intensity of our communication was nevertheless not lacking. I find in my diary: Sunday, July 7, 2003 – in the car to the Vatican, Porta Sant’Anna. Monsignor Stanislaw welcomes us – to the apartment of the Holy Father. His Holiness arrives and as always, receives us with a warm embrace. In the dining room. His Holiness speaks little – his eyes are half closed, but he listens with attention and intervenes with brief phrases especially when topics near to the ‘heart’ are mentioned rather than those of the ‘intellect’ … when I tell him that I think of him often, his reaction is immediate: “and I have you here”, he says, drawing his right hand towards his heart accompanied by a penetrating look.

It was only this look, this glance, which had been spared from the devastating effects of the illness and suffering. Up to the end, that penetrating look had sustained him – even intensified, if possible – his strength and sense of courage which it emanated. A strength in tact, the same which he had revealed in a late afternoon of October 1978, when Karol Wojtyla, already John Paul II – as André Frossard goes on to describe – “appeared for the first time on the steps of St Peter’s with a large crucifix planted in front of himself as if it were a sword to wield with two hands. When his first words, “Be not afraid” sounded throughout the Square, in that same instant, everyone understood that something had moved in heaven, and that after the man of good will who had opened the Council, after the great spiritual soul who had brought it to conclusion, and after a sweet and transitory intermission like the passing of a dove, God had sent us a witness.”(1)

A Witness of which the world has need more than ever before. The world which John Paul II saw as “profoundly marked by sin and by death… but which at the same time is a redeemed world; a world where a love more powerful than sin and death has been made manifest. This love is always present and does not cease to work.”

Karol Wojtyła testified to this truth in every instant of his life, up to the end when “the destination of his days on earth” was drawing close. In those last hours, the entire world gathered around the Holy Father; around he who meditating upon death had said, Even if man does not choose his own death, yet, by choosing his own way of life, chooses in this perspective, in a certain sense also his own death. Therefore death becomes the most perfect affirmation of life and of the choice made by man.”(2)

And the Spirit, giver of life, seemed to breathe upon that crowd that had gathered in St. Peter’s Square, ruffling and upsetting Cardinals’ mantels and garbs. It settled only after having turned the pages of the Gospel which lay upon the Pope’s casket.

Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
President of the Republic of Italy (1999-2006)

(1) “Non abbiate paura”: André Frossard dialoga con Giovanni Paolo II, Rusconi,1983
(2) K.Wojtyla Segno di contraddizione, Milano, Vita e Pensiero, 1977

Communicating the Gospel of John Paul II

by Joaquín Navarro-Valls *

Professionally speaking, the pontificate of John Paul II was not the first I had come across. It was, however, certainly the first that I had accompanied so closely from the beginning until the night of 2 April 2005.

Of course it is not easy to recall the evolution of communication over such a long period. One fact can perhaps help to give us an idea. The pontificate of Pope John Paul II was the first in history to be recorded, photographed, followed and, therefore, to be considered in it’s entirety. This fact is often overlooked as it is considered normal, inevitable in our age. It is, however, the key to painting a credible, human, personal picture of a man – a Pope – who became a full and universal symbol for modern Christianity.

John Paul II made visible to everyone the granite power of consistency, the melting capacity of identification, the prosaic reality of everyday life that is with Christ and the Gospel. John Paul II was a spokesperson for human and Christian values, and I think that this would not have been possible without the complicity of the media. He knew how the Gospel seeds must be sown.

To understand the message of Pope John Paul II is to understand and discover a fascinating and transparent man, Karol Wojtyla. A dramatic man very much not in need of the many sweetened nuances and myths that exist about him. His life has become an icon of our times because he knew how to effectively track the precise coordinates with which to decipher the simple present in the light of God. In this way he made known to the public the great passion that apostolic vocation requires, an experience which, in the end, is both profound and sanctifying.

This is the secret of his astonishingly natural apostolate. John Paul II was able to historically interpret the Second Vatican Council, communicating and expressing the divine in what had previously been closed; exposing the intimacy of the council texts to personal conscience of the Christian.

To correctly understand the way in which he communicated the Gospel, day by day, one must first understand how the life of Jesus became in him, slowly, the most real and actual representation of religiosity in this ambivalent age. God chose this man to show us how to lead ourselves out of our post-modern labyrinth, paradoxically by using the modern mass media.

Let us think for a moment about sanctity, for example. It is neither a new nor an old quality. It is the permanent possibility for every human to personally identify himself with the good. For a long time it was imagined to be a unique choice, strange and distant from normality, something almost alien to time and space.

The saints? Persons not of this world, or worse, of this time; collected in the obscurity of monasteries and abbeys, or reminiscent of museum pieces. The image of a saint seemed to have been lost in mystical memory, myths of the past that have no place in the future.

In his communication of the Gospel, Pope Wojtyla, on the other hand, naturally made sanctity a normal, proper state, and therefore, extraordinarily credible. In this way he overcame the idea that everything is based on structures, not people. Unlike before, when the focus was never on the present, now the camera of faith miraculously eternalised this material for the world, gathering images that showed an updated and consistent way of life.

John Paul II taught – again through the complicity of the media – with the energy of a youth, how the wounded dignity of the elderly should bring life to God. How there is nothing human that cannot become an occasion for sanctity. His closeness to young people was one of the most palpable signs of his personal roots in the truth. I am not just thinking of the great meetings with young people from all over the world. More I remember the reciprocated loyalty of those who came and stood vigil at his bedside during his last night of pain.

John Paul II was in tune with the new generations, he taught them not to be afraid of heroism (the younger brother of sanctity). He embodied the human base on which the gift, and challenge, of faith rests. In the end, Pope Wojtyla had re-carved the spiritual landscape, dried out by mistrust. He watered it with the leaven of the Gospel because only when it is openly testified can it enter the history of humanity.

* Director of the Press Office of the Holy See from 1984 to 2006

The Reliquary with the Pope’s Blood

reliquiaThe reliquary that will contain the blood of the Polish Pope leaves us bewildered and speechless. At first sight, it reminds us of the pages of the book of Gospels, which were turned over by the impetuous wind of that 8th of April of 2005, during the funeral celebration of John Paul II.  We will be able to see this work of art on the 1st of May at the Pope’s beatification ceremony.  It consists of a book of Gospels, composed of fused bronze and Persian wax, plated in silver and 24-karat gold. It is the work of the sculptor Carlo Balljana, who met the Pope personally over six times during the 26 years of his pontificate. The reliquary features a page with the pastoral crosier of the crucified Christ.  Below this image rests the cruet with the blood of the Pontiff, and on the opposite page is the engraved pontifical crest and the words “Do not be afraid.” «I’ve always had a particular devotion to John Paul II, and I have seen closely how much he suffered» says the sculptor, who has previously done other monuments for the Servant of God Karol Wojtyła, in Venice and Krakow. The metropolitan archbishop of Krakow, Stanislaw Dziwisz, commissioned Balljana with the task of making the reliquary for the new blessed: «I fixed my attention on this project immediately – says Balljana – intensifying the search for some formal solutions to concretize the idea and properly illustrate the figure of John Paul II».