Be generous in answering Jesus’ call inviting you to put out into the deep and become His witnesses, discovering the trust He puts in you to devise a future together with Him. Above all, to fulfill this mission the Church is entrusting to you requires that you cultivate a genuine life of prayer nourished by the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Confession.
Pope St John Paul II
Pope St John Paul II – Feast: 22nd October
Karol Wojtyła was born in Wadowice, Poland. As a boy, he loved athletics, football and swimming, had a large group of friends, and a beautiful girlfriend. He moved to Cracow with his father to study languages. The Nazi occupation forced the university to be closed. When some of his friends intended to take up arms to fight the enemy, Karol strongly spoke up for a non-violent resistance. For example, he was one of the driving forces of a secret theatre group and he hoped to help people keep faith and morale through their intellectual performances. Not long after the death of his father, Karol intensified his prayer life and discerned that God was calling him to become a priest. He studied in a clandestine seminary in his free time, while also working in a stone quarry and later in a chemical factory. In spite of these hardships, Karol felt confirmed in his choice to pursue his vocation, and was ordained a priest in 1946.
As a priest, he would often take young people out into the mountains for hiking, skiing, and kayaking. When they set up camp, they gathered around their ‘uncle’, as they called him. He listened attentively to their questions and always gave them a candid answer. He was appointed auxiliary bishop and later cardinal of Cracow. As such, he became an important force against the evils of communism. In 1978 he was elected pope. From the beginning of his pontificate, he spoke to the heart of the faithful. ‘Do not be afraid’ he cried to the crowds gathered in Saint Peters’ Square, urging them (and the communists) to ‘Open wide the doors to Christ.’ He had a special message for young people, telling them: ‘You are the future of the world and the hope of the Church. You are my hope!’ (22 October 1978). He would often repeat this message in different words, inviting his listeners to open themselves to God’s voice and answer to his will for them personally. Pope John Paul II is the founder of World Youth Day, which he instituted after a successful international youth gathering in Rome in 1984.
‘I am often asked, especially by young people, why I became a priest… It is impossible to explain entirely, for it remains a mystery, even to myself… Yet, I know that at a certain point in my life, I became convinced that Christ was saying to me what he had said to thousands before me: “Come, follow me!” There was a clear sense that what I heard in my heart was no human voice, nor was it just an idea of my own. Christ was calling me to serve him as a priest… I would like to invite each of you to listen carefully to God’s voice in your heart. Every human person is called to communion with God. That is why the Lord made us, to know him and love him and serve him, and – in doing this – to find the secret to lasting joy.’ [Pope John Paul II, Teleconference with young people, 15 September 1987]
O God, who are rich in mercy and who willed that the blessed John Paul the Second should preside as Pope over your universal Church, grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching, we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ, the sole Redeemer of mankind. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.
The Legacy of Pope St John Paul II
St John Paul II is one of the few men of whom it can be truly said that ‘he changed history’. His election in 1978 seemed astonishing: a Pope from Poland, at that time a country under the rule of a grim Communist government, formally committed to atheism and with a track record of crushing any attempts at public rejection of the official Marxist line.
Then this great Pope went home to Poland on pilgrimage, celebrating Mass before vast crowds in Victory Square in his capital city, and praying for the Holy Spirit to descend on the land – “this land” – and history changed. The whole Marxist edifice began the slow, inexorable rumble of change and eventually came tumbling down…the map of Europe was redrawn, and a new chapter began.
And St John Paul the Great did more – much, much more – than that. He was the first Pope since St Peter to pray with Jewish people in a synagogue. He was the initiator of World Youth Day which now draws together millions of young people from across the globe to pray together. He gave a fresh vision for marriage and sexual ethics with his Theology of the Body. He gathered the world’s religious leaders to pray for peace at Assisi, and he was a mystic who opened up the message of the spiritual life and introduced a new generation to the Rosary and to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
He was also the first Pope ever to visit Britain. What is astonishing about that is the way in which, somehow, it doesn’t now seem too extraordinary that a Pope should celebrate Mass with thousands of people here, or have tea with the Queen, or pray with the Anglican leaders in Canterbury cathedral. St John Paul broke through so many barriers with so much goodwill that he left a sense of normality about it all.
And when his successor, Benedict XVI came to visit us in due course, it was in response to an invitation from HM the Queen for a full State Visit, and it was a further joyous chapter in the story of the Church and Britain. It gave a fresh impetus to the Christian faith here for the 21stcentury.
St John Paul’s feast-day is October 22nd – the anniversary of the day that he took office as Pope. Even now, watching the events on a computer screen years later, the images hold their thrill. It was partly because – in what was to become typical for him throughout his pontificate – he combined a sense of the dignity and prayerfulness of the occasion with a sense of normality, of warm Christian goodwill and fatherly care.
Speaking from the balcony at St Peter’s – breaking with tradition, because a newly-elected Pope was expected simply to give a blessing and then retreat inside for further formalities – he told the crowd that the Church had elected a Pope from “a far country” but a country always loyal to Rome and to St Peter. He asked the – largely Italian – crowd to forgive his lack of skill “in your – in our – language” and they roared back their enthusiasm.
He was actually fluent in a great many languages including Italian, and would add more during his pontificate…and he never ceased to be loved by the people of Rome and to give them dedicated care as their Bishop, visiting parish after parish across the city through all the years when he also had to attend to so many other duties.
Beloved St John Paul: one of the greatest of Popes, and one who gave a new clarity and strength to the title “Holy Father”.
St John Paul the Great, pray for us!
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