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A tribute to John Paul II.

On April 2, 2005, a prayer service for Pope John Paul II was held in the Chapel of the Newman Centre at the University of Toronto. Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B., addressed several hundred university students and members of the University of Toronto Catholic community. He is the C.E.O. of Salt and Light TV; and the former National Director and C.E.O., World Youth Day, Toronto, 2002. Fr. Rosica shared some personal recollections of the Holy Father; and, in the extract that follows, enumerated seven essential messages from the just-ended pontificate.--Editor

No world leaders have ever had such an impact on young people as this leader has had. What will be the enduring messages and legacy of John Paul II on the young people who consider themselves to be part of the "John Paul II Generation"? The Pope himself often said, "In the designs of Providence, there are no mere coincidences." Maybe the reason this man became Pope is that he bore messages the world and especially young people needed to hear over the past 27 years.

I First was the message and centrality of the radiant splendour of Jesus Christ as the unique Lord and Saviour of all. In order to be authentic believers, we must have a deep, personal relationship with Jesus. Christianity, Catholicism, the Sacraments, are not courses, things, ideas, passing fancies, symbols--they are a person, and His name is Jesus. Theology alone, trendy pastoral programs, and New Age politically-correct jargon will not save us. Jesus will.

II Second was a message about human dignity. In speaking of John Paul II several years ago, President George W. Bush, one of the Pope's admirers, said: "A young seminarian, Karol Wojtyla, saw the swastika flag flying over the ramparts of Wawel Castle. He shared the suffering of his people and was put into forced labour. From this priest's experience and faith came a vision: that every person must be treated with dignity, because every person is known and loved by God."

John Paul II has impressed upon the new generation the dignity and sacredness of human life, from the earliest moments to the final moments. Life is an extraordinary adventure, a God-given gift to be cherished, treasured, and protected. Is it any surprise that so many hundreds of thousands of young people consider themselves to be explicitly pro-life, while their parents are so whimsical and non-committal about the issues of life and death?

In John Paul II's "Culture of Life" we must make room for the stranger and the homeless. We must comfort and care for the sick and dying. We must look after the aged and the abandoned. We must welcome the immigrant. We must defend innocent children waiting to be born.

III Third, John Paul II helped us to realize that the Church is dying in politically correct places where the Gospel is preached as merely a lifestyle option in a global supermarket of spiritualities without the obligation of belonging to the Church. The Church is thriving where the full Gospel is preached in clarity, charity, piety, devotion--in its full integrity.

John Paul II told young people that there is every reason for the truth of the Cross to be called the Good News. Young people took these words to heart and have carried the Cross around the world for the past twenty years. Not just the two beams of wood but the message of the Cross and its saving power. In Canada we are unlikely to forget the powerful images of the World Youth Day Cross on its historic, 16-month, 43,000-km pilgrimage from sea to sea to sea. The Pope entrusted this Cross to young people. They have carried it triumphantly across the face of the earth almost like an Olympic torch.

IV Fourth, John Paul II taught us that the adventure of orthodoxy--the challenge of fidelity and integrity, authenticity and solidarity--is what attracts young people today. Young people don't want to live on the surface. In a world that constantly panders to the young, a challenging Church, which combines the truth with charity and pastoral care, is a very attractive proposition.

How many times did John Paul II speak to young people reminding them that the family is the privileged place for the humanization of the person and of society, and that the future of the world and of the Church passes through it?

V Fifth, John Paul II issued a clarion call to commitment. To his young friends he said: "Many and enticing are the voices that call out to you from all sides: many of these voices speak to you of a joy that can be had with money, success, and power. Mostly they propose a joy that comes with the superficial and fleeting pleasure of the senses."

The alternative call was Jesus' siren song. "He calls you to be the salt and light of the world, to live in justice, to become instruments of love and peace." The choice was stark, self-denying, life-defining, irrevocable. It was between "good and evil, between light and darkness, between life and death."

There were no shortcuts or compromises for John Paul II, only clarity. And that is what the young are seeking today, not quick answers but Gospel clarity. How many people are not afraid anymore because they saw a Pope who was not afraid! How many young seminarians and religious have spoken their "yes" because of him! How many young couples have made permanent commitments in marriage because of his profound theology of the body! How many ordinary people have done extraordinary things because of his influence, his teaching, and his gestures!

VI Sixth point. He reminded us that the heroes the world offers to young people today are terribly flawed. They leave us so empty. The world today, and especially young people, have the increasing need of the fascinating lives of the saints. During his pontificate, Pope John Paul II has certainly helped us to rediscover these heroes and heroines in our tradition--in fact, he beatified 1320 women and men, and canonized 476 Saints.

The world today needs voices of justice, compassion and hope resounding from the palaces of governments like Rideau Hall [the Vaniers], and from clinics like the one in Mesero, Italy [Saint Gianna Beretta Molla]. We long to catch glimpses of men and women of conviction and truth--people who live in the small towns and parishes like the sacristan in St. Radegund, Austria [Franz Jagerstatter]. Even from the hell holes like the concentration camps in Brandenburg/Havel and Auschwitz [St. Edith Stein], we are able to find brilliant examples of extraordinary light in the midst of so much darkness.

Our world today rejoices in the holy men and women who labour in the Kaligats and Nirmal Hridays in India [Blessed Mother Teresa]. The world, and particularly young people, need the sterling examples of women and men who enter cloisters, not to be shut off from the world, but rather to embrace the world with love, prayer, and a true missionary spirit [Therese of Lisieux].

We need to hear Edith Stein's words each day on this campus: "Do not accept anything as truth if it lacks love; and do not accept as love anything which lacks truth."

Our world today badly needs Church leaders [Oscar Romero] who will stand up, speak out, and be counted--and we need to hear the crystal-clear message of young, committed, Catholic Christians, who, like the mountain climber from Pollone [Pier Giorgio Frassati], risk everything to give flesh and blood to the Beatitudes.

Our world rejoices in the poor, humble porter of Montreal [Brother Andre Bessette], and all those like him who graciously offer hospitality and kindness to the multitudes, without ever counting the cost.

VII Finally, one of the most profound lessons he taught us in the twilight of his pontificate was that everyone must suffer, even the Vicar of Christ. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, he let the whole world see what he went through. The passing of this Pope did not take place in private, but before television cameras and the whole world. In the final act of his life, the athlete was immobilized, the distinctive, booming voice silenced, and the hand that produced voluminous encyclicals no longer able to write. Yet nothing made John Paul waver, even the debilitating sickness hidden under the glazed Parkinsonian mask, and ultimately his inability to speak and move.

In a youth-obsessed culture in which people are constantly urged to fight or deny the ravages of time, age, disease, he reminded us that aging and suffering are a natural part of being human. Where the old and infirm are so easily put in nursing homes and often forgotten, the Pope was a timely and powerful reminder that our parents and grandparents, the sick, the handicapped, and the dying have great value.

Many young people have confided in me over the past few years that they were "deprived" of their grandparents in their families; they witnessed in the public diminishment and suffering of John Paul II the real meaning of aging and suffering. I have heard over and over again from young people these past years: "I feel as if he were my grandfather." Against the backdrop of a Culture of Death, where life is so cheap and sanctioned euthanasia is on our doorsteps, John Paul II's dying gave new meaning and urgency to the Gospel of Life in all of its agonizing beauty.
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Author:Rosica, Thomas
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Jul 1, 2005
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