Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Continuity in Faith: Francis and John Paul II

Here are some words that Pope Francis spoke or published in connection with yesterday's 100th birthday of Saint John Paul II. Once again, it is very clear that Francis has a profound appreciation for and continuity with the faith and the Christian anthropology of his incomparable predecessor. Francis has brought a style and approach and insights of his own while also continuing the rich legacy of papal teaching since the Second Vatican Council.

For the opening of a new Center at the Angelicum University, Francis wrote that John Paul II "is at once both the inspiration behind this project and its first and most important architect. This is thanks to the rich and multifaceted heritage that he left to us, and even more so by the example of his open and contemplative spirit, his passion for God and man, for creation, history and art. The range of experiences that marked his life, especially the momentous historical events and the personal sufferings that he sought to interpret in the light of the Spirit, led Saint John Paul II to an even deeper reflection on man and his cultural roots as an essential reference point for every proclamation of the Gospel.

"Indeed, in his first Encyclical he wrote: 'We approach all cultures, all ideological concepts, all people of good will. We approach them with the esteem, respect and discernment that since the time of the Apostles has marked the missionary attitude, the attitude of the missionary. Suffice it to mention Saint Paul and, for instance, his address in the Areopagus at Athens. The missionary attitude always begins with a feeling of deep esteem for what is in man, for what man has himself worked out in the depths of his spirit concerning the most profound and important problems. It is a question of respecting everything that has been brought about in him by the Spirit, which blows where it wills (Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, 12; cf. Address to UNESCO, 2 June 1980). We need to keep this approach alive if we wish to be an outward-looking Church, not satisfied with preserving and administering what already exists but seeking to be faithful to our mission."

~Pope Francis, "Establishment of John Paul II Cultural Center at the Angelicum" (May 18, 2020)


Francis also recorded a video message for the youth of the Archdiocese of Krakow, whom he also knows from his own visit in 2016. The message, in Italian, was subtitled in multiple languages including English:

"Dear young people, this year we celebrate 100 years since the birth of Saint John Paul II.

"It is a wonderful opportunity for me to address you, young people of Krakow, thinking about how much he loved young people, and remembering my presence among you for World Youth Day in 2016.

"Saint John Paul II was a gift of God to the Church and to Poland, your motherland. His earthly pilgrimage, which began on 18 May 1920 in Wadowice and ended 15 years ago in Rome, was marked by his passion for life and by a fascination with the mystery of God, of the world and of humankind.

"I remember him as a great man of mercy: I am thinking of his Encyclical Dives in Misericordia, of the canonization of Saint Faustina and of the establishment of Divine Mercy Sunday.

"In the light of God’s merciful love, he captured the specificity and beauty of the vocation of women and men, he understood the needs of children, of young people and of adults, also considering cultural and social conditioning...

"Today, you too can experience him, and know of his life and his teachings, which are available to everyone thanks to the internet. Each and every one of you, dear boys and girls, bears the imprint of your family, with its joys and sorrows.

"Love and care for the family is a characteristic feature of John Paul II. His teachings are a secure point of reference for finding concrete solutions to difficulties and to the challenges that modern-day families face.

"But personal and family problems are not an obstacle on the road to holiness and happiness. They weren’t for young Karol Wojtyła, either, who suffered the loss of his mother, brother, and father.

"As a student, he experienced the atrocities of Nazism, that took so many of his friends from him. After the war, as a priest and bishop, he was forced to face Atheistic Communism. Difficulties, even tough ones, are proof of maturity and of faith; a test which can only be passed based on the power of Christ, who died and rose again.

"John Paul II reminded the whole Church of this in his first Encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, where it says, 'The man who wishes to understand himself thoroughly must with his unrest, uncertainty, and even his weakness and sinfulness, with his life and death draw near to Christ. He must, so to speak, enter into Him with all his own self.'

"Dear young people, this is what I hope for each and every one of you: to enter Christ with your whole life. And I hope that the celebrations of the centenary of the birth of Saint John Paul II will inspire within you the desire to walk bravely with Jesus, who is 'the Lord of risk, he is the Lord of the eternal more. As He did on Pentecost, the Lord wants to work one of the greatest miracles we can experience: He wants to turn your hands, my hands, our hands into signs of reconciliation, of communion, of creation. He wants your hands, boys and girls: He wants your hands to continue building the world of today.'

"I entrust you all to the intercession of Saint John Paul II and I bless you, wholeheartedly. And you, please, do not forget to pray for me.

"Thank you!"


Finally, there were the words Francis preached at the morning Mass, which he offered at John Paul II's tomb in Saint Peter's Basilica:

"Saint John Paul II was a man of God because he prayed. And he prayed a lot! How could a man who had so many things to do and so much work to lead the Church, how could he take so much time for prayer? He knew well that the first task of a bishop is to pray... And he taught us that when a bishop carries out an examination of conscience in the evening he must ask himself: how many hours have I prayed today? [He was a] man of prayer.

"Secondly, he was a man of proximity. He was not detached from the people, on the contrary he went out to find the people and traveled the whole world, finding his people, looking for his people, getting close. And closeness is one of the traits of God with His people. Remember what the Lord says to the people of Israel: 'Look, what people have had their gods as close as I am to you?' A closeness of God to the people which then is becomes even closer in Jesus, becomes stronger in Jesus. A shepherd who is not close to his people, is not a shepherd, he is a hierarch, he is an administrator, perhaps good but not a shepherd. Proximity to the people. And Saint John Paul II gave us the example of this closeness: he made himself close to elderly and the little ones, to the near and far, always close.

"Thirdly, love for justice. But full justice! A man who wanted justice, social justice, justice of peoples, justice that drives wars away. But full justice! This is why Saint John Paul II was the man of mercy because justice and mercy go together, they cannot be distinguished, they go together: justice is justice, mercy is mercy, but one is not found without the other. And speaking of the man of justice and mercy, let us think of what Saint John Paul II did to make people understand the mercy of God. Let us think of his devotion to Saint Faustina, whose liturgical memory is now extended to the whole the church. He felt that God's justice bore a face of mercy, an attitude of mercy" (Homily of Mass of May 18, 2020).