John Paul II offering his first blessing as Pope, on October 16, 1978
On October 16, 2003, the 25th Anniversary of his election to the Pontificate, John Paul II presided at a Thanksgiving Mass in St. Peter's Square, which began with a tribute of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the Holy Father. Here is the tribute of the Cardinal, followed by the Pope's homily:
Most Holy Father, exactly 25 years ago, at this time, the Cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel elected you to the office of the Successor of St Peter, and you said your “yes” to the grace and burden of that office.
Twenty-five years ago, Cardinal Pericle Felici, Pro-Dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, solemnly announced to the crowd waiting in St Peter's Square: “Habemus Papam”. Twenty-five years ago, from the Loggia of the Blessings, you imparted the Urbi et Orbi Blessing for the first time and, with an unforgettable Address, instantly won the hearts of the Romans as well as of the many people across the world who were following you and listening to you. You said at that time that you came from a distant country, but we saw immediately that the faith in Jesus Christ that shone from your words and from your whole person overcomes all distances; that in the faith we have all grown close to one another. Right from the start you enabled us to experience this force of Christ that breaks down barriers and creates peace and joy.
In these 25 years as Vicar of Jesus Christ in the apostolic succession, you have tirelessly travelled the world, not only to bring to men and women the Gospel of the love of God made flesh in Jesus Christ, beyond all geographical boundaries; you have also crossed the continents of the spirit, often far from one another and set against each other, to bring strangers close, to make the distant friends, and to make room in the world for the peace of Christ (cf. Eph 2: 17). You have spoken to young and old, to the rich and the poor, the powerful and the humble – after the example of Jesus Christ – and you have always shown special love for the poor and defenceless, bringing to all a spark of God's truth and love. You have proclaimed God's will fearlessly, even when it was in opposition to what people thought and desired. Like the Apostle Paul, you can say that you have never sought to flatter with words nor to be honoured by mankind, but have watched over God's children as a mother. Like Paul, you too felt drawn to people and wanted to help them share not only in the Gospel but also in your own life (cf. I Thes 2: 5-8). You have undergone criticism and insults, arousing, however, gratitude and love, and causing the walls of hatred and unfamiliarity to crumble.
We can note today that you have put your whole being into serving the Gospel and have let yourself be spent by it (II Cor 12: 15). In your life the word “cross” is not merely a word. You have let yourself be wounded by it, body and soul. Again, like Paul, you too bear suffering to complete in your earthly life what is still lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of the Body of Christ which is the Church (cf. Col 1: 24).
Holy Father, today the whole Church thanks you for your service in the past 25 years. A great many non-Catholic sisters and brothers, people of good will and of other religions and beliefs, also thank you. With our prayers, we would like to entrust you to the inexhaustible goodness of Our Lord, who called you and has guided you along your whole journey. We pray that he may also make you feel the light of his presence at this time, too. We salute you with the ancient words of the Church: “Dominus conservet te et vivificet te et beatum te faciat in terra!”.
This is a beatitude that also depends – as we well know – on the fidelity of all of us to your person and to your task as Successor of Peter. We gladly make the most of this opportunity to reaffirm to you our desire to persevere “cum Petro et sub Petro” in our service to Christ and to the Church. With these sentiments, we say to you with heartfelt feeling: “Congratulations, Holy Father!”
|John Paul II in Rome on October 22, 1978|
“Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo” – I will sing of your mercies, O Lord, for ever (cf. Ps 89: 1). Twenty-five years ago I had a special experience of divine mercy. At the Conclave, through the College of Cardinals, Christ said to me, as he once said to Peter by the Lake of Genesaret: “Tend my sheep” (Jn 21: 16).
I heard echo in my soul the question he addressed to Peter at that moment: “Do you love me? Do you love me more than these...?” (cf. Jn 21: 15-16). Humanly speaking, how could I not have been apprehensive? How could so great a responsibility not burden me? I had to turn to divine mercy in order to answer the question “Do you accept?” with confidence: "In the obedience of the faith, before Christ my Lord, entrusting myself to the Mother of Christ and of the Church, aware of the great difficulties, I accept".
Today, dear brothers and sisters, I am pleased to share with you an experience that has now lasted for a quarter of a century. Every day that same dialogue between Jesus and Peter takes place in my heart. In spirit, I focus on the benevolent gaze of the risen Christ. Although he knows of my human frailty, he encourages me to answer confidently, like Peter: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (Jn 21: 17). And then he invites me to take on the responsibilities that he himself has entrusted to me.
“The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jn 10: 11). While Jesus was saying these words, the Apostles did not realize that he was referring to himself. Not even his beloved Apostle John knew it. He understood on Calvary, at the foot of the Cross, when he saw Jesus silently giving up his life for “his sheep”.
When the time came for John and the other Apostles to assume this same mission they then remembered his words. They realized that they would be able to fulfil their mission only because he had assured them that he himself would be working among them.
As Peter, a “witness of the sufferings of Christ” (I Pt 5: 1), was particularly aware of this, he admonished the elders of the Church: “Tend the flock of God that is your charge” (I Pt 5: 2).
Down the centuries, the successors of the Apostles, guided by the Holy Spirit, have continued to gather Christ's flock and lead it toward the Kingdom of Heaven, knowing that only “for Christ, with Christ and in Christ” could they assume so great a responsibility.
I was conscious of the same thing when the Lord called me to carry out Peter's mission in this beloved city of Rome and at the service of the whole world. From the beginning of my Pontificate, my thoughts, prayers and actions were motivated by one desire: to witness that Christ, the Good Shepherd, is present and active in his Church. He is constantly searching for every stray sheep, to lead it back to the sheepfold, to bind up its wounds; he tends the sheep that are weak and sickly and protects those that are strong. This is why, from the very first day, I have never ceased to urge people: “Do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power!” (Homily at the Mass Inaugurating the Pontifical Ministry of John Paul II, Oct. 22, 1978.) Today I forcefully repeat: “Open, indeed, open wide the doors to Christ!” Let him guide you! Trust in his love!
When I was beginning my Pontificate I appealed to all: “Help the Pope and all who wish to serve Christ and with Christ's power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind!”. As I thank God with you for these 25 years totally steeped in his mercy, I feel a special need to express my gratitude to you too, brothers and sisters of Rome and of the whole world, who have responded and continue to respond in various ways to my request for help. Only God knows what sacrifices, prayers and sufferings have been offered to sustain me in my service to the Church. How much kindness and concern, how many signs of communion have surrounded me each day. May the good Lord reward everyone generously! I implore you, dear brothers and sisters, do not stop your great work of love for the Successor of Peter. I ask you once again: help the Pope, whoever wants to serve Christ, to serve man and all humanity!
To you, Lord Jesus Christ, the one Pastor of the Church, I offer the fruit of these 25 years of ministry at the service of the people you have entrusted to my care. Forgive the evil done and multiply the good: All is your work and you alone deserve glory. With full confidence in your mercy I commend to you, again today, those whom years ago you entrusted to my pastoral care. Keep them in love, gather them into your sheepfold, take the weak upon your shoulders, bind up the wounded, take care of the strong. Be their Shepherd, so that they do not stray.
Protect the beloved Church which is in Rome and the Churches of the whole world. Instill the light and power of your Spirit in those you have chosen to guide your flock: may they carry out their mission enthusiastically as guides, teachers and sanctifiers, while they await your glorious return.
I renew to you, through the hands of the Beloved Mother, Mary, the gift of myself, of the present and of the future: may all be done according to your will. Supreme Pastor, stay with us, so that with you we may safely journey onwards to the house of the Father, to the house of the Father. Amen!