Divine providence gives us this evening the joy of a great experience of grace and light. With this Marian prayer vigil we hope to prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s celebration, the solemn beatification of the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II. Even though it has been six years since the death of the great Pope-Bishop of Rome and Pastor of the universal Church for 27 years-his memory is particularly vibrant. We feel veneration, affection, admiration and deep gratitude for the beloved pontiff.
We, above all, remember his witness of faith: a convinced and strong faith, free from fear or compromises, true until his last breath, forged by trials, fatigue, and illness, whose beneficient influence has spread throughout the Church, indeed throughout the world. His witness, through his apostolic travels, inspired millions of men and women of all races and cultures.
He lived for God. He offered himself entirely to God to serve the Church as a sacrificial offering. He would often repeat this prayer: ‘Jesus, Pontiff, who handed himself to God as offering and victim, have mercy on us’. His great desire was to become more and more one with Christ the priest through the Eucharistic sacrifice from which he drew strength and courage for his tireless apostolic action. Christ was the beginning, the centre and the apex of each of his days. Christ was the sense and the purpose of his actions. From Christ he drew energy and fullness of humanity. This explains the need and desire he had for prayer: Each of his days was dedicated to long hours of prayer and his work was penetrated and infused by prayer.
In this faith, which he lived in his most inner being, we can understand the mystery of the suffering that marked him from when he was young and which purified him like gold that is tested by fire. We were all amazed by the docility of spirit with which he faced the pilgrimage of his disease, even to the point of agony and death.
He was witness to the tragic age of big ideologies, totalitarian regimes, and from their passing John Paul II embraced the harsh suffering, marked by tension and contradictions, of the transition of the modern age toward a new phase of history, showing constant concern that the human person must be its protagonist. He was a staunch and credible defender of the human person to the nations and the international institutions, which respected him and have paid him homage, recognising him as a messenger of justice and peace.
With his gaze fixed on Christ, the Redeemer of humanity, he believed in humanity and showed his openness, trust and closeness. He loved the human person, pushing us to develop in ourselves the potential of faith to live as free persons, cooperating in the realisation of a more just and caring humanity, as workers for peace and builders of hope. Convinced that only the spiritual experience can satisfy humanity he said: the fate of every person and of all peoples is tied to Christ, the only liberator and Saviour.
In his first encyclical he wrote: “Man cannot live without love…His life [remains] senseless, if love is not revealed to him… Christ the Redeemer “fully reveals man to himself”. He began his pontificate with these vibrant words: “Don’t be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ! Christ knows what is in the human person. Only he knows!” These words bear witness that he believed that God’s love is inseparable from the love for humans and their salvation.
In his extraordinary energy of love for humanity he loved, with a kind and tender love, all those “wounded by life”, as he called the poor, the sick, the nameless and those excluded a priory-but he had a particular love for the youth. His calls for the World Youth Days had the purpose of making youth into the protagonists of their own future, becoming builders of history. The youth, he said, are the wealth of the Church and of society. He invited them to prepare for the big choices to be made, to look ahead with confidence, trusting in their own abilities and following Christ and the Gospel.
Dear brothers and sisters, we all know John Paul II’s singular devotion to the Madonna. The motto on the coat of arms of his pontificate, Totus tuus, summarises well his life, which was oriented towards Christ by the means of Mary: ad Iesum per Mariam. As the disciple John, the “beloved disciple”, under the Cross at the Redeemer’s death, took Mary into his home, John Paul II wanted to always keep Mary mystically close to himself, making her part of his life and his ministry feeling embraced and loved by her.
The remembrance of our beloved pontiff, prophet of hope, should not mean a return to the past for us, but let us make the most of human and spiritual heritage; let it be an impetus to look forward. May the words that he wrote in his apostolic letter Novo millennio ieunte from the great Jubilee Year of 2000 resound in our hearts: “Let us go forward in hope! A new millennium is opening before the Church like a vast ocean upon which we shall venture, relying on the help of Christ. The son of God…is at work even today: we need discerning eyes to see this and above all, a generous heart to become the instruments of his work.”
The Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, so dear to Pope John Paul II, whom we now call upon in the praying of the Rosary, help us in every circumstance, to be witnesses of Christ and proclaimers of God’s love in the world. Amen.