April 7, 2005
A light has gone out. And there is sadness in our heart. As the candle gives light, even as it is consumed, John Paul II spent himself in his pastoral office as shepherd of the universal Church. Faithfully he stood before the world and spoke the message of Christ.
Almost twenty-seven years ago, we welcomed a young Pope filled with vitality and hope. Son of Poland, he became father to us all. The world needed a man of conviction. God gave us John Paul. The world hungered for the truth: for the truth about life--the life of the innocent child in the womb, the life of the family; for the truth about freedom and rights. And God gave us this man who spoke without fear and with great love for all God’s children—the unborn, the weak, the dying.
So often the world becomes confused in its thinking. This Pope brought to the teaching of the Church one of the most brilliant minds of the century. Again and again, society gives into selfishness and wallows in materialism. John Paul remained the strong conscience of the entire Christian world, challenging us with the spiritual truths of the gospel that give meaning to life.
He was a light in a world darkened with violence and war. To a time when the life of the innocent and rights of the poor are trampled, his clear, consistent preaching of the gospel was a ray of hope. He was an undaunted opponent of oppressive political regimes and a fierce proponent of the dignity of every individual. To governments and nations, to science and technology, to strident voices fostering the culture of death, he strenuously spoke as the moral voice for the culture of life written into creation by its Maker. He stood firm for freedom. And Communism collapsed. He stood firm on principles of justice that apply to all governments both in the East and the West. And he offered hope to the poor and less powerful.
Like Peter in Acts of the Apostles (Acts 9:32), he went from country to country, continent to continent, confirming the churches in the faith. He brought vitality to a Church heavy with years. He enkindled warmth and compassion in his travels. He connected so effortlessly with youth, because his spirit never weakened. The young cheered him; the elderly revered him. His smile brought strength; his presence, peace.
In the third longest papacy in the history of the Church, he courageously called Catholics to fidelity to the rich Tradition of faith handed down from the time of the apostles. Boldly he taught what the Church has always taught and priests, religious and laypeople found the support to live their faith. He took seriously the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on collegiality (
Lumen Gentium, 22-23) and worked with bishops from around the world. He presided at 15 Synods of Bishops. Pope John Paul II authored 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions, 44 apostolic letters and 5 books. By proclaiming 1,338 Blesseds and canonizing 482 Saints, he showed us that sanctity in this world is possible, no matter what our vocation.
Not just Catholics nor only Christians but people of good faith looked to this man who walked among us in the shoes of the fisherman. His words gave clear guidance; his life, unmistakable proof of mission. As he aged before us and became crippled with illness, he nonetheless remained undiminished in the strength of his faith. Some whispered retirement as his health deteriorated. He spoke of commitment. He would not abandon his pastoral mission of shepherding the whole Church. For he knew that, beyond our human weakness, God’s Holy Spirit was given to the Church and he had been called like Peter to serve the Church unto death.
The years took their toll. His body slowly weakened. We watched each moment as he faced our common mortality. Yet, his declining image in no way diminished his ministry. He himself became the sermon shedding great light on the value of suffering, the dignity of the person, even when infirmed and elderly.
By the time of his death, Pope John Paul II had traveled more than any other pope in history. He visited more than 125 countries. Seven times he came to the United States. Only Poland can claim more visits. Thanks to the media, he became the most visible world figure. Through all the troubles and trials of over a quarter century, he showed us the way from the darkness of despair to the threshold of hope. Repeatedly he called for justice and equality for the forgotten people in the world’s developing nations. Whether in the prison cell of the man who tried to kill him or on his own hospital bed, he made us see how we are to live the gospel of Jesus.
Unafraid to live, unafraid to die, John Paul II now leaves the world one of the greatest witness to truth it has ever seen. Commitment; fidelity were not just words. They were his witness. They are his legacy.