One year ago, on Saturday, April 2, 2005, the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, the great Pope John Paul II left us for the Father's house, but his memory is still vivid throughout the Church and the world.
Pope Benedict XVI, who never misses any opportunity in his various speeches to pay homage to his "venerated predecessor", will go to Poland at the end of May to thank the Poles for the gift of this exceptional man who, for over 26 years, as leader of the Church of Christ, preached and lived total adherence to the Lord Jesus.
Besides, in a short period of time, John Paul II should be declared blessed. Pope Benedict said that he does not intend to write many new documents, since everything has already been said and explained so well by Pope John Paul II — especially the meaning of the Second Vatican Council — and that our task now is to study the many teachings of the late Pope.
This first anniversary was emphasized this year all over the world, but especially in Rome with special ceremonies at St. Peter's Square, with a Rosary vigil that gathered over 100,000 people on the night of April 2, 2006, and a Mass the next day. Here are excerpts from Pope Benedict's speeches for this occasion.
On Sunday, April 2, at noon, before the prayer of the Angelus, Benedict XVI said to the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square:
On April 2 last year, just as today, in these very hours and here in this very apartment, beloved Pope John Paul II was living the last stage of his earthly pilgrimage, a pilgrimage of faith, love and hope which left a profound mark on the history of the Church and of humanity.
We all remember the images of his last Way of the Cross on Good Friday: being unable to go to the Colosseum, he followed it in his Private Chapel, a cross in his hands. Then, on Easter morning he imparted the Urbi et Orbi Blessing, unable to speak, solely with the gesture of his hand. Let us never forget that Blessing. It was the most heartfelt and moving Blessing which he left us as the last testimony of his desire to carry out his ministry to the very end.
John Paul II died as he had always lived, inspired by the indomitable courage of faith, abandoning himself to God and entrusting himself to Mary Most Holy. This evening we will commemorate him with a Rosary Vigil in St. Peter's Square, where tomorrow afternoon we will celebrate Mass for him.
A year after his departure from this earth to the Father's house, we can ask ourselves: what did this great Pope who led the Church into the third millennium leave us? His legacy is immense, but the message of his very long Pontificate can be summed up well in the words he chose to inaugurate it, here in St. Peter's Square on October 22, 1978: "Open wide the doors to Christ! "
John Paul II incarnated this unforgettable appeal, which I feel resounding within me as if it were yesterday, in the whole of himself and in the whole of his mission as Successor of Peter, especially with his extraordinary programme of apostolic journeys. In visiting the countries of the entire world, meeting the crowds, the ecclesial communities, the heads of government, religious leaders and various social realities, he was making, as it were, a great gesture to confirm his initial words. He always proclaimed Christ, presenting Him to everyone, as did the Second Vatican Council, as an answer to man's expectations, expectations of freedom, justice and peace. Christ is the Redeemer of man, he was fond of repeating, the one genuine Saviour of every person and of the entire human race.
In his last years, the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, to make him fully resemble Him. And when henceforth he could no longer travel or even walk, or finally even speak, his gesture, his proclamation, was reduced to the essential: to the gift of himself to the very end. His death was the fulfilment of a consistent witness of faith that moved the hearts of so many people of good will.
John Paul II departed from us on a Saturday dedicated especially to Mary, for whom he had always had a filial devotion. Let us now ask the heavenly Mother of God to help us treasure what this great Pope gave and taught us.
On Sunday evening, Benedict XVI led from his study window the recitation of the Rosary with the faithful gathered in St Peter's Square, and delivered a reflection afterwards:
A year has already passed since the death of the Servant of God John Paul II at this very moment — it was 9:37 p.m. — but his memory lives on, more alive than ever, as is testified to by the many events scheduled to take place in these days throughout the world. He continues to be present in our minds and hearts; he continues to communicate to us his love for God and his love for man; he continues to inspire in one and all, and especially in the young, enthusiasm for good and the courage to follow Jesus and His teachings.
How can we sum up the life and evangelical witness of this great Pontiff? I will attempt to do so by using two words: "fidelity" and "dedication", total fidelity to God, and unreserved dedication to his mission as Pastor of the universal Church. Fidelity and dedication appeared even more convincing and moving in his final months, when he embodied in himself what he wrote in 1984 in the Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris: "Suffering is present in the world in order to release love, in order to give birth to works of love towards neighbour, in order to transform the whole of human civilization into a civilization of love" (n. 30).
This evening, the first anniversary of his return to the Father's House, we are invited to accept anew the spiritual legacy he has bequeathed to us; we are urged, among other things, to live by seeking tirelessly the Truth that alone brings relief to our hearts. We are encouraged not to be afraid to follow Christ in order to bring everyone the Gospel proclamation which is the leaven of a more fraternal and supportive humanity.
May John Paul II help us from Heaven to continue on our way, remaining docile disciples of Jesus in order to be, as he himself loved to repeat to young people, "dawn watchmen" at the beginning of this third Christian millennium. For this, let us call on Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, for whom he always felt a tender devotion.
On Monday evening, April 3, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Holy Mass in St. Peter's Square for the repose of the soul of the late John Paul II. Here are excerpts from the homily:
It was faith, of course, that was at the root of John Paul II's total offering of himself. To those who had the opportunity to be close to him, that firm and forthright faith was almost tangible. If it impressed the circle of his collaborators, it did not fail during his long Pontificate to spread its beneficial influence throughout the Church in a crescendo that reached its highest point in the last months and days of his life. It was a convinced, strong and authentic faith — free of the fears and compromises that have infected the hearts of so many people — thanks partly to his many apostolic pilgrimages in every part of the world, and especially thanks to that last "journey", his agony and his death.
The Gospel passage that has just been proclaimed helps us to understand another aspect of his human and religious personality. We might say that among the Apostles, he, the Successor of Peter, supremely imitated John the "beloved disciple", who stood under the Cross with Mary at the moment of the Redeemer's abandonment and death. The evangelist relates that Jesus, when He saw them standing near, entrusted the one to the other: "Woman, behold, your son! "... "Behold, your mother! " (Jn 19:26-27). The dying Lord's words were particularly dear to John Paul II. Like the Apostle and Evangelist, he too wanted to take Mary into his home: "et ex illa hora accepit eam discipulus in sua" ("and from that hour the disciple took Her into his own keeping" Jn 19:27).
The expression "accepit eam in sua" is singularly compact. It indicates John's decision to make Mary share in his own life, so as to experience that whoever opens his heart to Mary is actually accepted by Her and becomes Her own. The motto that stands out in the coat of arms of the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II, Totus tuus, sums up this spiritual and mystical experience well, in a life completely oriented to Christ through Mary: "ad Iesum per Mariam".
Michael Brown's website, spiritdaily.com, published a letter of Robert Allard, director of Apostles of Divine Mercy (divinemercysunday. com), which elaborates on the links between John Paul II and Divine Mercy:
Pope John Paul died on a feast that the Lord Jesus said would be the "last hope of salvation." The Pope died on the vigil of a feast that he himself established in the Jubilee Year 2000 to fulfill what he called "the will of Christ." Pope John Paul named the new feast "Divine Mercy Sunday."
The Pope knew as soon as he was named as the Vicar of Christ in 1978 that God had entrusted him with the special mission of preparing the world for the Second Coming of Christ. His first words "Be not afraid" must have been sent from above to ease the fears of the people of the world who would face an ever increasing and overwhelming power of evil that is foretold many times in the Book of Revelation.
Jesus Himself selected His two messengers that would help Him to prepare the world for His Final Coming. The first was a Polish nun named Maria Faustina Kowalska, whom the Lord called His secretary and apostle of Divine Mercy. The second was a special man named Karol Wojtyla, who would later become Pope John Paul II.
Many believe the Polish Pope to be the "spark from Poland" that Jesus told Saint Faustina would "prepare the world for My final coming." Faustina was instructed by Jesus to record all of His words to her in a diary that has since been published all over the world. The name of that diary is called "Divine Mercy in My Soul."
Pope John Paul was exposed, at an early age, to the words of Jesus given to Saint Faustina when he was studying for the priesthood in an underground seminary during the German occupation of Poland in World War II. By God's Divine Providence, the chapel, now made famous since Faustina was declared a saint, lay directly between the seminary and the labor camp where he worked to survive.
He would stop and pray there, and he became knowledgeable of the contents of her diary. Decades later, as the Pope recuperated in his hospital room after being shot, on May 13th, 1981, he had the entire diary reread to him. Later that year while at the Shrine of Merciful Love, he stated, "Right from the beginning of my ministry in St. Peter's See in Rome, I considered this message [of Divine Mercy] my special task. Providence has assigned it to me in the present situation of man, the Church and the world. It could be said that precisely this situation assigned that message to me as my task before God."
By God's Providence, Faustina was canonized as the first saint of the new millennium right on Divine Mercy Sunday when John Paul II announced the institution of this new feast. Later that day, he exclaimed "This is the happiest day of my life.", He had fulfilled the will of Christ!
Five years later, he would die on that feast. Everyone present with the Pope in his final moments celebrated the Feast of Divine Mercy, which Jesus promised would bring the total forgiveness of sins and punishment. Jesus made this promise with certain conditions; one must go to Confession and then receive Holy Communion on that Feast of Mercy. The Pope received those sacraments just before he died.
Pope John Paul had prepared a short homily from his deathbed that was to be read on Divine Mercy Sunday. It was indeed read, not by him, but by a Vatican official on that day after the Mass at St. Peter's for the eternal repose of Pope John Paul II. It was an urgent plea for a greater understanding of Divine Mercy, and was read as follows:
"As a gift to humanity, which sometimes seems bewildered and overwhelmed by the power of evil, selfishness, and fear, the Risen Lord offers His love that pardons, reconciles, and reopens hearts to love. It is a love that converts hearts and gives peace. How much the world needs to understand and accept Divine Mercy!
"Lord, who reveal the Father's love by Your death and Resurrection, we believe in You and confidently repeat to You today: Jesus, I trust in You, have mercy upon us and upon the whole world. Amen."