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American priest reveals communication ‘mix-up’ about end of Vatican job

Rome Newsroom, Apr 6, 2021 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- Msgr. Robert Oliver, a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston, said last week that due to a “mix-up,” he was not told in advance that his service on the Vatican’s safeguarding commission was ending after six years.

Oliver had been secretary of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors (PCPM) since its beginning in 2014. For the two years prior, he had been promoter of justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

On March 24, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had extended the terms of 15 members of the commission for a year, adding a member, Chilean survivor of clerical sexual abuse Juan Carlos Cruz, for a term of three years. Oliver’s term as secretary was not renewed.

Oliver said in a Good Friday homily in Boston on April 2 that he had learned the news from journalists as he was boarding a plane to come to Boston for a visit.

“It was just a few days ago that I was at the airport returning to Boston, for what I thought was going to be just a short trip,” he said. “We were just about to board the plane and my phone lit up, and several media members were asking why it was that the Vatican had announced that my service at the Holy See was ending.”

“Well, it seems that through a rather amusing mix-up in communications, unfortunately my superiors in Rome had kind of failed to let me know,” Oliver said.

The priest explained that he then spoke to his bishop, Cardinal Seán O’Malley, who confirmed that the news was true and he would be returning to Boston archdiocese.

O’Malley is also president of the PCPM, a position he will continue to hold, according to the Archdiocese of Boston.

Oliver’s homily was delivered during the Liturgy of the Passion of the Lord, celebrated by O’Malley at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

In his homily, Oliver reflected on the image of Jesus on the cross, with his arms outstretched, and the feelings of “rejection, anger, all of us have experienced in our life.”

“And there’s the sense, really, that there was still so much that I had hoped to achieve,” he said.

He noted that for 20 years he has worked with Cardinal O’Malley for victims of abuse and for priests wrongly accused of abuse, “hoping to contribute something to the reform of our Church.”

He said that as he has tried to process his thoughts and emotions about the end of his time in Rome, he is primarily filled with gratitude.

“In the homily, I wanted to convey clearly my joy at coming home to serve in the archdiocese and that the time in Rome will remain an important chapter in my years of priestly ministry,” Oliver told CNA via email, calling the end of his service at the Vatican “not at all unexpected.”

“In fact, I ended up serving longer than the expected time,” he said.

In the homily, he said: “But OK, now it’s time for a change, and the readings put the cross before us. But really, feelings of rejection? There hangs the Savior of the world, of every human being, one cast out and alone, on the hill of Golgotha. Anger? What depth of hatred can lead someone to nail another person to a cross and to stand there taunting him and spitting on him for hours?”

“And there are the arms of our Savior stretched out to his executioners and praying for forgiveness.”

Oliver said that he had been given a warm welcome in Boston, but did not know what he would be doing next, describing himself as being in a “free agent period, just like professional athletes.”

“Maybe the Patriots still have a bit of money left over,” he joked.

He said that he had been particularly touched by an email he received from a young woman who had been the victim of clerical sexual abuse and afterward ignored by the Church. She had been traumatized by her experience and almost committed suicide, he said.

The woman wrote to him after hearing that his term in Rome had ended. Oliver said that she wrote: “I’m so sorry to hear the news. It must be so difficult for you, I can’t possibly imagine. Please know how valuable your service as a priest is. Please know that God has great things ahead for you. Take a moment today and pause.”

“This is a victim of abuse by a priest,” he said, “when feeling completely rejected and alone, rejected by the Church, and she’s writing these words to a priest. This is evangelization.”

“As St. Paul writes in Ephesians, we need strength, we need the divine strength of God to understand these things, to comprehend the breadth, and the length, the depth, and the height of the love of the Crucified Savior,” he concluded.

“He has borne our sins. He welcomes us to the Father. He wishes us to respond, he wishes us to bring this life to others, and to speak to them about what he has done in our lives.”

Pope Francis urges Catholics to pray for people risking lives to fight for fundamental rights

CNA Staff, Apr 6, 2021 / 09:30 am (CNA).- Pope Francis is inviting Catholics around the world to pray this month for people risking their lives by standing up for fundamental rights.

The pope made the appeal in his prayer intention for April, released on Tuesday.

“Let us pray for those who risk their lives while fighting for fundamental rights under dictatorships, authoritarian regimes and even in democracies in crisis, that they may see their sacrifice and their work bear abundant fruit,” reads the monthly prayer intention, issued April 6 by the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network.

The network also released an accompanying video, in which Pope Francis explained the rationale for the prayer intention.

Speaking in Spanish, the pope said: “Defending fundamental human rights demands courage and determination. I’m referring to actively combatting poverty, inequality, the lack of work, land, and housing, and the denial of social and labor rights.”

“Often, in practice, fundamental human rights are not equal for all. There are first-, second-, and third-class people, and those who are disposable. No. They must be equal for all.”

He continued: “In some places, defending people’s dignity can mean going to prison, even without a trial. Or it might mean slander.”

“Every human being has the right to develop fully, and this fundamental right cannot be denied by any country.”

pic.twitter.com/N3IOv27C39

— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 6, 2021 Although the prayer intention and video did not mention any countries by name, the pope has called attention repeatedly in recent weeks to the crisis in Burma following a military coup.

“Once again and with great sadness, I feel the urgency to speak about the tragic situation in Myanmar, where many people, mostly young people, are losing their lives to give hope to their country,” he said at the end of a general audience on March 17.

The advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimates that security forces have killed 570 protesters in the Southeast Asian country as of April 5.

Freedom House, a U.S.-based NGO, issued a report in March 2020 arguing that democracy was decreasing not only in authoritarian states but also in countries with a long history of upholding basic rights.

Its “Freedom in the World 2020” report found that political rights and civil liberties had deteriorated worldwide for a 14th year in succession.

Among the territories highlighted in the study was Hong Kong. In recent months, Western governments have accused China of undermining the territory’s democratic system.

Under a “national security” law that came into force last summer, a number of local Catholics have been arrested and charged with terrorism, sedition, and foreign collusion.

Pope Francis has not addressed the situation publicly.

The Standard, an English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, said last month that Vatican Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher had defended the Holy See’s approach.

It quoted the Vatican Secretary for Relations with States as saying that, concerning Hong Kong, “I don’t think that ‘grandstanding’ statements can be terribly effective.”

“I think you have to ask what effect [a statement] is going to have? Is it going to produce a positive change, or does it make the situation more complicated for the local Church and for relations with the Holy See? At the moment, we feel that’s the right approach,” Gallagher reportedly said.

Commenting on the pope's prayer intention for April, Fr. Fréderic Fornos, S.J., international director of the Pope’s Worldwide Prayer Network, said: “It’s not the first time that Pope Francis has insisted on the importance of people’s fundamental rights.”

“In his latest encyclical, Fratelli tutti, he denounced the fact that ‘While one part of humanity lives in opulence, another part sees its own dignity denied, scorned or trampled upon, and its fundamental rights discarded or violated.’”

“Pope Francis asks us this month to pray for ‘those who risk their lives while fighting for fundamental rights under dictatorships, authoritarian regimes and even in democracies in crisis.’”

“It’s an invitation to remember those men and women, in so many countries of the world, who continue to be in prison or in dangerous situations, or who have lost their life, and many of them in the name of their faith in Jesus Christ. Let us not forget them; let us pray for them.”

Pope Francis at the Regina Coeli: ‘Never tire of seeking the risen Christ’

CNA Staff, Apr 5, 2021 / 05:25 am (CNA).- Pope Francis said Monday that Christians should “never tire of seeking the risen Christ.”

Speaking before the recitation of the Regina Coeli April 5, the pope noted that Easter Monday is known in Italy as Lunedì dell’Angelo, or the Monday of the Angel.

Referring to the Gospel reading (Matthew 28:1-15) in which Mary Magdalene and the other Mary encountered an angel at the empty tomb while looking for Jesus, he observed that the angel greeted the women with the words “Do not be afraid.”

“We can reap a precious teaching from the angel’s words: we should never tire of seeking the risen Christ who gives life in abundance to those who meet him,” he said.

The pope gave his address in the library of the Apostolic Palace due to coronavirus restrictions. Italy entered a three-day nationwide lockdown on Saturday. Easter Monday -- also known in Italy as La Pasquetta, or “Little Easter” -- marked the final day of the lockdown, which the authorities hope will help to reduce a third wave of the virus.

Standing beneath Pietro Perugino’s painting of the Resurrection, Pope Francis recalled the angel’s next words to the women: “I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.”

He commented: “This expression ‘He has risen’ goes beyond human capacity. Even the women who had gone to the tomb and had found it open and empty could not confirm ‘He has risen,’ but they could only say that the tomb was empty.”

“‘He has risen’ is a message… Only an angel could say that Jesus had risen, only an angel with the authority to be the bearer of a heavenly message, with the power given by God to say it, just as an angel -- only an angel -- had been able to say to Mary: ‘You will conceive a son, [….] and he will be called the Son of the Most High’ (Luke 1:31-32).”

The pope pointed out that in St. Matthew’s account there was a “great earthquake” as the angel rolled back the stone at the entrance to Jesus’ tomb and sat upon it.

“That large stone, that was supposed to be the seal of the victory of evil and death, was put underfoot, it becomes the footstool of the angel of the Lord. All of the plans and defenses of Jesus’ enemies and persecutors were in vain. All the seals had crumbled,” he said.

“The image of the angel sitting on the stone before the tomb is the concrete manifestation, the visible manifestation of God’s victory over evil, the manifestation of Christ’s victory over the prince of this world, the manifestation of the victory of light over darkness.”

“Jesus’ tomb was not opened by a physical phenomenon, but by the Lord’s intervention.”

Francis contrasted the fear-filled reaction of the guards with that of the women at the tomb.

He said: “To find Christ means to discover peace in our hearts. The same women of the Gospel, after initially being shaken -- that is understandable -- experience great joy in discovering the Master alive.”

Quoting a Communion antiphon, he continued: “In this Easter season, my wish is that everyone might have the same spiritual experience, welcoming in our hearts, in our homes, and in our families the joyful proclamation of Easter: ‘Christ, having risen from the dead, dies now no more; death will no longer have dominion over him.’”

“The Easter proclamation is this: Christ is alive, Christ accompanies my life, Christ is beside me. Christ knocks at the door of my heart so you can let him in, Christ is alive. In these days of Easter, it would be good for us to repeat this: the Lord is alive.”

The pope added that it was the Resurrection that inspired Catholics to pray the Regina Coeli prayer throughout the 50 days of Easter.

“The angel Gabriel had greeted [Mary] thus the first time: ‘Rejoice, full of grace!’ Now Mary’s joy is complete: Jesus lives, Love has conquered. May this be our joy as well,” he said.

Speaking immediately after he had recited the Regina Coeli, the pope greeted those watching via television and live stream.

“I am thinking in particular of the elderly, those who are ill, connected from their own homes or rest homes. To them, I send a word of encouragement and recognition of their witness: I am near them,” he said.

Concluding his address, the pope said he hoped that everyone would live out the Easter Octave with faith.

“Take every opportune occasion to witness to the joy and peace of the Risen Lord,” he urged.

“A happy, peaceful, and holy Easter to everyone! And please do not forget to pray for me.”

Full text: Pope Francis’ Easter Urbi et Orbi blessing 2021

Vatican City, Apr 4, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).- On Easter Sunday 2021, Pope Francis offered Mass at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. Afterward, he gave the Urbi et Orbi message and blessing. The following is the full text of the pope’s Easter message.



Dear Brothers and Sisters, a good, happy and peaceful Easter!

Today, throughout the world, the Church’s proclamation resounds: “Jesus, who was crucified, has risen as he said. Alleluia!”

The Easter message does not offer us a mirage or reveal a magic formula. It does not point to an escape from the difficult situation we are experiencing. The pandemic is still spreading, while the social and economic crisis remains severe, especially for the poor. Nonetheless – and this is scandalous – armed conflicts have not ended and military arsenals are being strengthened. That is today’s scandal.

In the face of, or better, in the midst of this complex reality, the Easter message speaks concisely of the event that gives us the hope that does not disappoint: “Jesus who was crucified has risen.” It speaks to us not about angels or ghosts, but about a man, a man of flesh and bone, with a face and a name: Jesus. The Gospel testifies that this Jesus, crucified under Pontius Pilate for claiming he was the Christ, the Son of God, rose on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, just as he had foretold to his disciples.

The crucified Jesus, none other, has risen from the dead. God the Father raised Jesus, his Son, because he fully accomplished his saving will. Jesus took upon himself our weakness, our infirmities, even our death. He endured our sufferings and bore the weight of our sins. Because of this, God the Father exalted him and now Jesus Christ lives forever; he is the Lord.

The witnesses report an important detail: the risen Jesus bears the marks of the wounds in his hands, feet and side. These wounds are the everlasting seal of his love for us. All those who experience a painful trial in body or spirit can find refuge in these wounds and, through them, receive the grace of the hope that does not disappoint.

The risen Christ is hope for all who continue to suffer from the pandemic, both the sick and those who have lost a loved one. May the Lord give them comfort and sustain the valiant efforts of doctors and nurses. Everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us, requires assistance and has the right to have access to necessary care. This is even more evident in these times when all of us are called to combat the pandemic. Vaccines are an essential tool in this fight. I urge the entire international community, in a spirit of global responsibility, to commit to overcoming delays in the distribution of vaccines and to facilitate their distribution, especially in the poorest countries.

The crucified and risen Lord is comfort for those who have lost their jobs or experience serious economic difficulties and lack adequate social protection. May he inspire public authorities to act so that everyone, especially families in greatest need, will be offered the assistance needed for a decent standard of living. Sadly, the pandemic has dramatically increased the number of the poor and the despair of thousands of people.

“The poor of every kind must begin once more to hope.” Saint John Paul II spoke these words during his visit to Haiti. It is precisely to the beloved Haitian people that my thoughts turn in these days. I urge them not to be overwhelmed by difficulties, but to look to the future with confidence and hope. And my thoughts turn especially to you, my dear Haitian brothers and sisters. I am close to you and I want a definitive resolution to your problems. I am praying for this, dear Haitian brothers and sisters.

The risen Jesus is hope for all those young people forced to go long periods without attending school or university, or spending time with their friends. Experiencing real human relationships, not just virtual relationships, is something that everyone needs, especially at an age when a person’s character and personality is being formed. I express my closeness to young people throughout the world and, in these days, especially to the young people of Myanmar committed to supporting democracy and making their voices heard peacefully, in the knowledge that hatred can be dispelled only by love.

May the light of the risen Jesus be a source of rebirth for migrants fleeing from war and extreme poverty. Let us recognize in their faces the marred and suffering face of the Lord as he walked the path to Calvary. May they never lack concrete signs of solidarity and human fraternity, a pledge of the victory of life over death that we celebrate on this day. I thank the nations that generously receive people who are suffering and seeking refuge. Lebanon and Jordan in particular are taking in many refugees who have fled from the conflict in Syria.

May the people of Lebanon, who are undergoing times of difficulty and uncertainty, experience the consolation of the Risen Lord and find support from the international community in their vocation to be a land of encounter, coexistence and pluralism.

May Christ our peace finally bring an end to the clash of arms in beloved and war-torn Syria, where millions of people are presently living in inhumane conditions; in Yemen, whose situation has met with a deafening and scandalous silence; and in Libya, where at last there is hope that a decade of bloody strife and clashes may come to an end. May all parties involved commit themselves effectively to ending conflicts and allowing war-weary peoples to live in peace and to begin the reconstruction of their respective countries.

The Resurrection naturally takes us to Jerusalem. On Jerusalem we ask the Lord to grant peace and security (cf. Ps 122), so that it can embrace its calling to be a place of encounter where all can see one another as brothers and sisters, and where Israelis and Palestinians will rediscover the power of dialogue for reaching a stable solution that will enable the two states to dwell side by side in peace and prosperity.

On this festive day, my thoughts also return to Iraq, which I had the joy of visiting last month. I pray that it may continue along the path of peace and thus fulfill God’s dream for a human family hospitable and welcoming to all his children.[1]

May the power of the risen Lord sustain the peoples of Africa who see their future compromised by internal violence and international terrorism, especially in the Sahel and Nigeria, as well as in Tigray and the Cabo Delgado region. May the efforts to resolve conflicts peacefully continue, in respect for human rights and the sacredness of life, through fraternal and constructive dialogue in a spirit of reconciliation and true solidarity.

There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world! May the Lord, who is our peace, help us to overcome the mindset of war. May he grant that prisoners of conflicts, especially in eastern Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh, may return safely to their families, and may he inspire world leaders to curb the race for new weaponry. Today, April 4, marks the International Awareness Day against anti-personnel landmines, insidious and horrible devices that kill or maim many innocent people each year and prevent humanity from “walking together on the paths of life without fearing the threat of destruction and death!”[2] How much better our world would be without these instruments of death!

Dear brothers and sisters, once again this year, in various places many Christians have celebrated Easter under severe restrictions and, at times, without being able to attend liturgical celebrations. We pray that those restrictions, as well as all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion worldwide, may be lifted and everyone be allowed to pray and praise God freely.

Amid the many hardships we are enduring, let us never forget that we have been healed by the wounds of Christ (cf. 1 Pet 2:24). In the light of the Risen Lord, our sufferings are now transfigured. Where there was death, now there is life. Where there was mourning, now there is consolation. In embracing the cross, Jesus bestowed meaning on our sufferings and now we pray that the benefits of that healing will spread throughout the world. A good, happy and serene Easter to all of you!



[1] Address at the Interreligious Meeting in Ur, 6 March 2021.

[2] John Paul II, Angelus, 28 February 1999.

Pope Francis on Easter: Christ’s wounds are the ‘seal of his love for us’

Vatican City, Apr 4, 2021 / 04:25 am (CNA).- May those who suffer take refuge in the wounds of Christ, and through them, receive the hope which does not disappoint, Pope Francis prayed on Easter Sunday.

In his Urbi et Orbi blessing April 4, the pope said the witnesses of Christ’s resurrection “report an important detail: the risen Jesus bears the marks of the wounds in his hands, feet and side.”

“These wounds are the everlasting seal of his love for us,” Francis said. “All those who experience a painful trial in body or spirit can find refuge in these wounds and, through them, receive the grace of the hope that does not disappoint.”

“Amid the many hardships we are enduring, let us never forget that we have been healed by the wounds of Christ,” he said.

The pope added: “In the light of the Risen Lord, our sufferings are now transfigured. Where there was death, now there is life. Where there was mourning, now there is consolation. In embracing the cross, Jesus bestowed meaning on our sufferings and now we pray that the benefits of that healing will spread throughout the world. A good, happy and serene Easter to all of you!”

Pope Francis gave the Easter Urbi et Orbi message and blessing from the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica, where he had offered Easter Sunday Mass with a congregation of around 200 people.

With Italy in a new lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, the blessing was given inside the basilica, instead of from the central loggia overlooking St. Peter’s Square.

After the proclamation of the Gospel, sung in Latin and Greek, the pope did not pronounce a homily, but kept a moment of silence for personal reflection.

At the end of the Mass, Pope Francis thanked everyone who helped to make the Holy Week and Easter liturgies at the Vatican beautiful. He also thanked Cardinal Angelo Comastri, who has recently retired, for his 16 years of service as the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica.

In the Urbi et Orbi blessing, Pope Francis noted that “once again this year, in various places many Christians have celebrated Easter under severe restrictions and, at times, without being able to attend liturgical celebrations.”

“We pray that those restrictions, as well as all restrictions on freedom of worship and religion worldwide, may be lifted and everyone be allowed to pray and praise God freely,” he said.

The pope explained that “Today, throughout the world, the Church’s proclamation resounds: ‘Jesus, who was crucified, has risen as he said. Alleluia!’”

The Easter message, he continued, is not a mirage or a magic formula, nor is it an escape from the difficult situation of the COVID-19 pandemic and the severe social and economic crises it has caused.

“Nonetheless – and this is scandalous – armed conflicts have not ended and military arsenals are being strengthened,” he said.

“In the face of, or better, in the midst of this complex reality, the Easter message speaks concisely of the event that gives us the hope that does not disappoint,” the pope explained. “‘Jesus who was crucified has risen.’”

This message is about a man “of flesh and bone, with a face and a name: Jesus,” he said.

“The crucified Jesus, none other, has risen from the dead. God the Father raised Jesus, his Son, because he fully accomplished his saving will,” the pope added. “Jesus took upon himself our weakness, our infirmities, even our death. He endured our sufferings and bore the weight of our sins. Because of this, God the Father exalted him and now Jesus Christ lives forever; he is the Lord.”

Pope Francis prayed that those who are sick with the coronavirus, or who have lost loved ones in the pandemic, may be comforted by the Risen Christ.

He prayed for the vulnerable, for those who have lost their jobs, and for anyone experiencing financial insecurity.

He also prayed that the risen Jesus would give hope to all the children and young adults forced to go a long time without attending school or university, or without seeing their friends.

“I express my closeness to young people throughout the world,” Francis said, “and, in these days, especially to the young people of Myanmar committed to supporting democracy and making their voices heard peacefully, in the knowledge that hatred can be dispelled only by love.”

He prayed that Jesus will be a source of rebirth to migrants fleeing war and poverty, and thanked Lebanon and Jordan for taking in so many refugees of the conflict in Syria.

“May the people of Lebanon, who are undergoing times of difficulty and uncertainty, experience the consolation of the Risen Lord and find support from the international community in their vocation to be a land of encounter, coexistence and pluralism,” he said.

The pope prayed that Christ would bring peace to the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and Libya. Remembering his trip to Iraq last month, he said, “I pray that it may continue along the path of peace and thus fulfill God’s dream for a human family hospitable and welcoming to all his children.”

For the people of Africa, he prayed for freedom from internal violence and international terrorism, especially in the Sahel, Nigeria, Tigray, and the Cabo Delgado region.

“There are still too many wars and too much violence in the world!” he emphasized. “May the Lord, who is our peace, help us to overcome the mindset of war. May he grant that prisoners of conflicts, especially in eastern Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh, may return safely to their families, and may he inspire world leaders to curb the race for new weaponry.”

At the end of the Easter message, Cardinal Mauro Gambetti read the pronouncement of the plenary indulgence associated with the Urbi et Orbi before Pope Francis bestowed his blessing on the city of Rome and the world.

Full Text: Pope Francis’ homily for Easter Vigil at the Vatican

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2021 / 03:30 pm (CNA).- Here is the full text of the Easter Vigil homily of Pope Francis, delivered April 3 at St. Peter's Basilica.

The women thought they would find a body to anoint; instead they found an empty tomb. They went to mourn the dead; instead they heard a proclamation of life. 

For this reason, the Gospel  tells us, the women “were seized with trembling and amazement” (Mk 16:8). Full of fear, trembling, and full of amazement. A fear mingled with joy that took their hearts by surprise when they saw the great stone before the tomb rolled away and inside a young man in a white robe. 

Wonder at hearing the words: “Do not be afraid! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen.” And a message: “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.”

May we too accept this message, the message of Easter. Let us go to Galilee, where the Risen Lord has gone ahead of us. Yet what does it mean “to go to Galilee?” 

To go to Galilee means, first, to begin anew. For the disciples it meant going back to the place where the Lord first sought them out and called them to follow him. The place of their first  encounter and the place of their first love. 

From that moment on, leaving their nets behind, they followed Jesus, listening to his preaching and witnessing the miracles he performed. Yet, though they were always with him, they did not fully understand him. Frequently they misunderstood his words and in the face of the cross they abandoned him and fled. 

Even so, the Risen Lord once more appears as the  one who goes ahead of them to Galilee. He precedes them. He stands before them and constantly calls them to follow him. He says to them: “Let us start over from where we began. Let us begin anew. I want you to be with me again, in spite of everything”. 

In this Galilee, we learn to be amazed by the Lord’s infinite love, which opens new trails along the path of our defeats. He is like this, and he invites us to Galilee to be like this.

This is the first Easter message that I would offer you: it is always possible to begin anew,  because there is always a new life that God can awaken in us in spite of all our failures. 

Even from the rubble of our hearts -- each of us knows, knows the rubble of his own heart. From the rubble of our hearts, God can create a work of art; from the ruined remnants of our humanity, God can  prepare a new history. He never ceases to go ahead of us: in the cross of suffering, desolation and  death, and in the glory of a life that rises again, a history that changes, a hope that is reborn. In these dark months of the pandemic, let us listen to the Risen Lord as he invites us to begin anew and  never lose hope.  

Going to Galilee also means setting out on new paths. It means walking away from the tomb. The women were looking for Jesus in the tomb; they went to recall what they had  experienced with him, which was now gone forever. They went to indulge in their grief. 

There is a kind of faith that can become the memory of something once beautiful, now simply to be recalled.  Many people -- we too --  experience such a “faith of memories,” as if Jesus were someone from the past, an old friend from their youth who is now far distant, an event that took place long ago, when they attended catechism as a child. A faith made up of habits, things from the past, lovely childhood memories, but no longer a faith that moves me, or challenges me.

Going to Galilee, on the other hand, means realizing that faith, if it is to be alive, must get back on the road. It must daily renew the first steps of the journey, the amazement of the first encounter. And it must continue to trust, not thinking it already knows everything, but embracing the humility of those who let themselves be surprised by God’s ways. 

We are afraid of God's surprises; we are often afraid that God will surprise us. And today the Lord invites us to let ourselves be surprised.

Let us go to Galilee, then, to discover that God cannot be filed away  among our childhood memories, but is alive and filled with surprises. Risen from the dead, Jesus  never ceases to amaze us.  

This, then, is the second message of Easter: faith is not an album of past memories; Jesus is  not outdated. He is alive here and now. He walks beside you each day, in every situation you are  experiencing, in every trial you have to endure, in your deepest hopes and dreams. 

He opens new doors when you least expect it, he urges you not to indulge in nostalgia for the past or cynicism about the present. Even if you feel that all is lost, please let yourself be open to amazement at the newness Jesus brings: he will surely surprise you.  

Going to Galilee also means going to the peripheries. Galilee was an outpost: the people living in that diverse and disparate region were those farthest from the ritual purity of Jerusalem. Yet that is where Jesus began his mission. There he brought his message to those struggling to live from day to day, proclaiming this message to the excluded, the vulnerable and the poor. There he brought the face and presence of God, who tirelessly seeks out those who are discouraged or lost, who goes to the very peripheries  of existence, since in his eyes no one is least, no one is excluded. 

The Risen Lord is asking his disciples to go there even today. He asks us to go to Galilee, to this “real Galilee”. It is the settings of daily life, the streets we travel every day, the corners of our cities. There the Lord goes ahead of us and makes himself present in the lives of those around us, those who share in our day, our home, our work, our difficulties and hopes. 

In Galilee we learn that we can find the Risen One in the faces of our brothers and sisters, in the  enthusiasm of those who dream and the resignation of those who are discouraged, in the smiles of  those who rejoice and the tears of those who suffer, and above all in the poor and those on the  fringes. We will be amazed how the greatness of God is revealed in littleness, how his beauty  shines forth in the poor and simple. 

And this is the third message of Easter: Jesus, the Risen Lord, loves us without limits and is  there at every moment of our lives. Having made himself present in the heart of our world, he  invites us to overcome barriers, banish prejudices and draw near to those around us every day in  order to rediscover the grace of everyday life. 

Let us recognize him here present in our Galilees, in everyday life. With him, life will change. For beyond all defeats, evil and violence, beyond all  suffering and death, the Risen One lives and the Risen One guides history.  

Sister, brother, if on this night you are experiencing an hour of darkness, a day that has not yet dawned, a light dimmed or a dream shattered, go open your heart with amazement to the  message of Easter: “Do not be afraid, he has risen! He awaits you in Galilee”. 

Your expectations  will not remain unfulfilled, your tears will be dried, your fears will be replaced by hope. For the Lord always goes ahead of you, he always walks before you. And, with Him, life always begins anew. 

Pope Francis at Easter Vigil: 'The Risen Lord loves us without limits'

Vatican City, Apr 3, 2021 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- At the Vatican's Easter Vigil Mass, Pope Francis said that Jesus’ love is without limits and always provides the grace to begin anew.

The pope said in his homily on April 3 that "it is always possible to begin anew because there is always a new life that God can awaken in us in spite of all our failures.”

He continued: “From the rubble of our hearts, God can create a work of art; from the ruined remnants of our humanity, God can prepare a new history. He never ceases to go ahead of us: in the cross of suffering, desolation and death, and in the glory of a life that rises again, a history that changes, a hope that is reborn.”

“Jesus, the Risen Lord, loves us without limits and is there at every moment of our lives,” Pope Francis said in St. Peter’s Basilica.

The Easter Vigil, which takes place on Holy Saturday night, “is the greatest and most noble of all solemnities and it is to be unique in every single Church,” according to the Roman Missal.

Pope Francis offered the Vigil Mass at the basilica’s Altar of the Chair with about 200 people present.

St. Peter's Basilica, the largest church in the world, is normally packed for the Easter Vigil. This year’s Easter Triduum liturgies were once again scaled back due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The preparation of the Paschal candle was omitted and no baptisms took place at the vigil, only a renewal of baptismal promises.

The liturgy began in darkness with the blessing of the new fire. The pope and concelebrating cardinals then processed through the dark church carrying lit candles to signify the light of Christ coming to dispel the darkness.



“If on this night you are experiencing an hour of darkness, a day that has not yet dawned, a light dimmed, or a dream shattered, go open your heart with amazement to the message of Easter: ‘Do not be afraid, he has risen! He awaits you in Galilee,’” Pope Francis said in his homily.

“Your expectations will not remain unfulfilled, your tears will be dried, your fears will be replaced by hope. For the Lord always goes ahead of you, he always walks before you. And, with him, life always begins anew.”

During the liturgy, a cantor sang the Exsultet Easter Proclamation, which tells the story of salvation from the creation, the testing and fall of Adam, the liberation of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and culminates in Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and leads us to salvation.



The basilica was lit up gradually until it was fully illuminated at the Gloria, when the bells of St. Peter’s tolled.

In his homily, the pope asked people to reflect on the angel’s message to Mary Magdalene and the others who went to anoint Jesus’ body, but found an empty tomb, as described in the Gospel of Mark:

“Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter,  ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.”

Pope Francis said: “Let us go to Galilee, where the Risen Lord has gone ahead of us. Yet what  does it mean ‘to go to Galilee?’”

The pope then explained that “going to Galilee” can mean setting out on new paths, beginning anew, and going out to the peripheries.

“Galilee was an outpost: the people living in that diverse and disparate region were those farthest from the ritual purity of Jerusalem. Yet that is where Jesus began his mission. There he brought his message to those struggling to live from day to day … the excluded, the vulnerable and the poor,” he said.

“There he brought the face and presence of God, who tirelessly seeks out those who are discouraged or lost, who goes to the very peripheries of existence, since in his eyes no one is least, no one is excluded.”



Pope Francis said that he thinks many people today view the Catholic faith as a thing of the past or “lovely childhood memories” that no longer influence their daily lives.

“God cannot be filed away among our childhood memories, but is alive and filled with surprises. Risen from the dead, Jesus never ceases to amaze us,” he said.

Pope Francis continued: “Jesus is not outdated. He is alive here and now. He walks beside you each day, in every situation you are experiencing, in every trial you have to endure, in your deepest hopes and dreams. … Even if you feel that all is lost, please, let yourself be open to amazement at the newness Jesus brings: He will surely surprise you.”

 

Pope Francis leads Via Crucis seen through the eyes of children

CNA Staff, Apr 2, 2021 / 03:00 pm (CNA).- Pope Francis led the Way of the Cross, featuring meditations prepared by children, at the Vatican on Good Friday evening.

With Italy still facing coronavirus restrictions, this was the second year in succession that the Via Crucis was not held at the Colosseum, a Roman amphitheater associated with the Christian martyrs.

The prayer began at 9 p.m. local time on the parvis in front of an illuminated St. Peter’s Basilica.

Pope Francis presides at the Stations of the Cross outside St. Peter's Basilica, April 2, 2021. / Vatican MediaPope Francis had selected a scouting group from central Italy and youngsters from a Roman parish to prepare the texts for this year’s Stations of the Cross.

The Agesci “Foligno I” Scout Group in Umbria, made up of 145 young people between the ages of eight and 19, devised the meditations and prayers.

An additional group of around 500 children from the First Communion and Confirmation catechism classes at the south Rome parish of the Holy Martyrs of Uganda also contributed.

Explaining the choice of children to write the meditations, Vatican News said: “Pope Francis has called on the faithful to look at the sufferings of humanity through the eyes of children by entrusting them this year with the meditations for the Way of the Cross.”

“He asks us to consider more deeply their perspective of the world today, especially in this tragic time of the pandemic.”

The Second Station, Jesus takes up his cross, drawn by children for the Via Crucis in St. Peter's Square, April 2, 2021. The inscription reads: ‘I would like to always do my duty without protesting.’ / Vatican Media.Each of the 14 stations was accompanied by a drawing by young children and adolescents living at the Mater Divini Amoris and Tetto Casal Fattoria family homes in Rome.

The Mater Divini Amoris Family Home is run by the sisters of the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of Divine Love and currently looks after eight children ages three to eight.

The Tetto Casal Fattoria Family Home is a social cooperative that supports children and youth “in the growth and construction of a life project.”

Pope Francis presides at the Stations of the Cross outside St. Peter's Basilica, April 2, 2021. / Vatican MediaPope Francis sat listening intently on a velvet-covered chair on a spotlit platform overlooking the square, rising to read a prayer at the end of each station. Behind him hung a scarlet curtain with a large crucifix, with candles burning beneath it.

The introductory prayer said: “Dear Jesus, You know that we children also have crosses to carry. Crosses that are no lighter or heavier than those of adults, but are still real crosses, crosses that weigh us down even at night. Only you know what they are, and take them seriously. Only you.”

The Fifth Station, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry his cross, drawn by children for the Via Crucis in St. Peter’sSquare, April 2, 2021. The inscription reads: ‘Jesus enable me to help those in need’ / Vatican Media.The reflections were read out by children as a small group carrying a simple black cross processed around the Egyptian obelisk at the center of St. Peter’s Square, led by four people carrying burning torches.

The group, which consisted of children and educators wearing face coverings, moved along a route lined by small fires. The lights formed a large flickering cross in the otherwise empty square.

As the stations progressed, the procession moved towards Pope Francis. Before the 14th and final station, a girl presented the cross to the pope. He held it tightly, pressing his forehead to it, while the meditation and prayer were read out.

Pope Francis presides at the Stations of the Cross outside St. Peter's Basilica, April 2, 2021. / Vatican MediaThe Roman tradition of holding the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum on Good Friday dates back to the pontificate of Benedict XIV, who died in 1758.

After dying out for a period, the tradition was revived in 1964 by Pope Paul VI, while under Pope John Paul II the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum became a worldwide television event.

Each year, the pope personally chooses who will write the meditations for the stations.

Last year, Pope Francis asked the chaplaincy at the “Due Palazzi” House of Detention in Padua, northern Italy, to prepare the meditations.

The Eleventh Station, Jesus is nailed to the cross, drawn by children for the Via Crucis in St. Peter’s Square, April 2, 2021. The inscription reads: ‘Jesus I would like to forgive those who make fun of me and be friends with them’ / Vatican Media.This year’s stations concluded with a final prayer which said: “Lord, merciful Father, once again this year we have followed your Son Jesus on the way of the cross. We followed him by listening to the voices and the prayers of the children whom you yourself set before us as the model for entering your kingdom.”

“Help us to be like them: little, in need of everything, open to life. May we regain our purity of heart and our ability to see things in a clear light.”

It continued: “We ask you to bless and protect every child in our world. May all children grow in wisdom, age and grace, and so come to know and follow your special plan for their happiness.”

“Bless too all parents, and those who assist them in raising these, your children, so that they may always feel one with you as givers of life and love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Pope Francis presides at the Stations of the Cross outside St. Peter's Basilica, April 2, 2021. / Vatican MediaThe official booklet for the ceremony suggested that the pope would offer a short reflection at the end of the Via Crucis. But instead, he simply imparted his apostolic blessing, as he did last year.

After giving the apostolic blessing, the pope greeted four small children who ran up to him. He hugged them and patted their heads, before walking off the stage together with them.

Full text: Cardinal Cantalamessa's homily at the Vatican's Good Friday liturgy

Vatican City, Apr 2, 2021 / 01:30 pm (CNA).- On Good Friday, Pope Francis celebrated the Liturgy of the Passion of the Lord at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica. Please find below the full text of the homily by Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap., preacher of the papal household.



“THE FIRSTBORN AMONG MANY BROTHERS”

(Romans 8:29)

On October 3, 2020, at the tomb of St. Francis in Assisi, the Holy Father Pope Francis signed his Encyclical Letter, “On Fraternity and Social Friendship”, Fratres omnes. Within a short period, it has reawakened in many hearts the aspiration towards that universal value; has shed light on many wounds that afflict the world today; has suggested some ways to reach real and just human fraternity; and has urged everyone – both people and institutions – to work for that goal.

The encyclical is addressed to a very wide audience, inside and outside the Church, indeed practically the whole of humankind. The letter spans numerous spheres of life, ranging from the private to the public sector, and from religious circles to social and political spheres. Given its universal scope, it correctly avoids limiting the discussion to aspects that characterize and belong exclusively to Christians. Towards the end of the encyclical, there is however a paragraph in which the gospel foundations of fraternity are summed up. Sparse in words but vibrant in meaning it reads:

Others drink from other sources. For us, the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From it, there arises, “for Christian thought and for the action of the Church, the primacy given to relationship, to the encounter with the sacred mystery of the other, to universal communion with the entire human family, as a vocation of all (FO, 277).

The mystery of the cross that we are celebrating obliges us to focus precisely on this Christological foundation of fraternity which was inaugurated on Calvary.

At times, the New Testament uses the term brother (adelfos) in its primitive, most common, meaning, that is, a sibling, someone who was born of the same father and the same mother. Secondly, people who belong to the same nation or people are referred to as brothers. Paul said that he would be willing to become anathema – separated from Christ – if it would benefit his brothers, his “kindred according to the flesh,” the Israelites (see Rm 9:3). In those contexts, as in other instances, brothers is a generic term that includes men and women, brothers and sisters.

The horizon of meaning widens to include every human person, just in virtue of being such. Brother, in this sense, is sometimes translated in the Bible as neighbor. “Whoever hates his brother ...” (1 Jn 2:9) means “whoever hates his neighbor.” When Jesus says: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40), he intends to include every human person in need of help.

Besides all these nuances, the New Testament also uses the word brother to indicate a specific group of people. My brothers are Jesus’ disciples, those who welcome his teachings. “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? [...] Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Mt 12:48-50).

Easter marks a new and decisive development in this regard. In the Paschal Mystery, Christ becomes “the firstborn among many brothers” (Rm 8:29). The disciples become brothers and sisters in a new and very profound sense. They not only share a belief in Jesus’ teaching, but also his own Spirit, his new life as the Risen One.

Significantly, only after the resurrection for the first time Jesus calls his disciples brothers. He instructs Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (Jn 20:17). The Letter to the Hebrews uses the term in the same sense, “The one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers” (Heb 2:11).

After the Easter event, this is the most common use of the term brother. It indicates a brother in the faith, a member of the Christian community. They are also blood brothers – but in the blood of Christ! Because Christ is also God, this fraternity is both unique and transcendent. Christ’s fraternity does not replace other types of fraternity, due to family, nation, or race, but rather it crowns them. As creatures of the same God and Father, all human beings are brothers. The Christian faith adds a second and decisive dimension. We are brothers not only because we all have the same Father in virtue of creation, but we also have the same brother, Christ, “the firstborn among many brothers” in virtue of redemption.

* * *

Some practical consequences flow from this truth. We build fraternity in precisely the same way that we build peace, that is starting close by, with ourselves, not with great strategies and ambitious, abstract objectives. For us, that means universal fraternity starts with the Catholic Church. For once, I want to put to the side even the second circle, namely the fraternity that exists between all believers in Christ, that is ecumenism.

Fraternity among Catholics is wounded! Divisions between Churches have torn Christ’s tunic to shreds, and worse still, each shredded strip has been cut up into even smaller snippets. I speak of course of the human element of it, because no one will ever be able to tear the true tunic of Christ, his mystical body animated by the Holy Spirit. In God's eyes, the Church is "one, holy, catholic and apostolic", and will remain so until the end of the world. This, however, does not excuse our divisions, but makes them more guilty and must push us more forcefully to heal them.

What is the most common cause of the bitter divisions among Catholics? It is not dogma, nor is it the sacraments and ministries, none of the things that by God’s singular grace we fully and universally preserve. The divisions that polarize Catholics stem from political options that grow into ideologies taking priority over religious and ecclesial considerations and leading to complete abandon of the value and the duty of obedience in the Church.

In many parts of the world, these divisions are very real, even though they are not openly talked about or are disdainfully denied. This is sin in its primal meaning. The kingdom of this world becomes more important, in the person’s heart than the Kingdom of God.

I believe that we all need to make a serious examination of conscience in this regard and be converted. Fomenting division is the work par excellence of the one whose name is ‘diabolos’ that is, the divider, the enemy who sows weeds, as Jesus referred to him in the parable (see Mt 13:25).

We need to learn from Jesus’ example and the Gospel. He lived at a time of strong political polarization. Four parties existed: the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the Zealots. Jesus did not side with any of them and energetically resisted attempts to be pulled towards one or the other. The earliest Christian community faithfully followed him in that choice, setting an example above all for pastors, who need to be shepherds of the entire flock, not only of part of it. Pastors need to be the first to make a serious examination of conscience. They need to ask themselves where it is that they are leading their flocks – to their position or Jesus’. The Second Vatican Council entrusted especially to laypeople the task of translating the social, economic and political implications of the Gospel into practice in different historical situations, always in a respectful and peaceful way.

* * *

If there is a special charism or gift that the Catholic Church is called to cultivate for all the Christian Churches, it is precisely unity. The Holy Father’s recent trip to Iraq has made us see firsthand how much it means to oppressed peoples or survivors of persecution, atrocities, and wars to feel a sense of belonging to a universal body, with someone lending his voice to the voiceless, so that their cry might be heard by the rest of the world and hope revived. Once again Christ’s mandate to Peter, “Strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:32) has been fulfilled.

To the One who died on the cross “to gather into one the dispersed children of God” (Jn 11:52), with a humble spirit and contrite heart we lift up the prayer addressed to him by the Church before Communion at every Mass:

Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you; look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. You live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

The next hundred years of St. John Paul II’s legacy

Denver Newsroom, Apr 2, 2021 / 01:00 pm (CNA).- Pope St. John Paul II— who would have turned 100 years old May 18— was a man of great humility, whose nearly 27-year pontificate nevertheless left a lasting impression on the Catholic Church and the world, according to his biographer and others who knew the man.

“He's the great Christian witness of our time. He's the exemplar of the fact that a life wholly dedicated to Jesus Christ and the Gospel is the most exciting human life possible,” George Weigel, the pope’s biographer, told CNA.

After an upbringing marked by the sadness of losing his mother, father, and brother, he endured the Nazi’s occupation of Poland, working hard as a laborer and eventually clandestinely studied for the priesthood and became cardinal archbishop of Krakow.

He eventually became the most traveled pope in history, and a beloved saint. He died in 2005, and Pope Francis canonized him in 2014.

“This man lived a life of such extraordinary drama that no Hollywood scriptwriter would dare come up with such a storyline. It would just be regarded as absurd,” Weigel added.

Weigel— and a former member of the Swiss Guard who served John Paul II for four years— spoke to CNA about what they think the pope will be remembered for in the next 100— or even the next 1,000— years.

The making of a saint

Karol Wojtyla was born a century ago, on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland.

His father, also named Karol, was a Polish Army lieutenant, and his mother Emilia was a school teacher. The couple had three children: Edmund in 1906; Olga, who died shortly after her birth; and Karol, named for his faither, in 1920.

Karol was bright; a good student and an aspiring actor. Upon graduating from high school, he enrolled in Krakow's Jagiellonian University and in a school for drama in 1938.

The Nazi occupation forces in Poland closed the university in 1939, and young Karol had to work in a quarry for four years, and then in the Solvay chemical factory to earn his living and to avoid being deported to Germany.

To make matters worse, Karol would lose his entire immediate family while still a young man. His mother died in 1929; his older brother Edmund, a doctor, died in 1932; and his father died in 1941.

In 1942, aware of his call to the priesthood, he began courses in the clandestine seminary of Krakow, run by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha, archbishop of Krakow.

After the Second World War, he continued his studies in the major seminary of Krakow once it had reopened, and in the faculty of theology of the Jagiellonian University. He was ordained to the priesthood in Krakow on November 1, 1946.

On January 13, 1964, Pope Paul VI appointed him archbishop of Krakow, and later a cardinal on June 26, 1967.

Elected in 1978, he was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years.

Man of prayer

John Paul II was a man of deep prayer who loved and trusted God, and also had a deep devotion to Mary. The rosary was one of his favorite prayers, and he even gave the Church a new way to contemplate truths about Jesus in the form of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary,

Mario Enzler, a former Swiss Guard member who served John Paul II, said he hopes that people will remember the pope’s simplicity— a quality he was privileged to observe firsthand.

Enzler, now a professor and author of the book "I Served a Saint," recounts the first time he ever met John Paul II, in 1989. It was very soon after he started as a Swiss Guard, on the third floor of the apostolic palace. He got a call saying the Holy Father was leaving his apartment to go to the Secretary of State’s office.

The protocol for the guards in that instance was to make sure nobody was milling around in the corridor, and to stand at attention as the pope walked by. Sometimes the pope would stop to talk to the guards— but oftentimes not.

In this case, when John Paul walked by, he stopped, and Enzler remained at attention.

“He said to me: 'You must be a new one,'” Enzler recalled. He introduced himself.

“He let me finish my sentence, shook my hand…then he grabbed his hand with both of his hands, and said: 'Thank you Mario, for serving who serves.’ Then he left,” Enzler said.

“The concept of servant leadership got, can I say, tattooed on my soul,” he remembers.

“Because he didn't even know who I was, he saw that I was a new one, and he was kind enough to stop, shake my hand, ask my name; but he said, thank you for serving who serves.'

“The first time that I met him, I was obviously extremely emotional. I was really emotional when he came. I could sense he was special— he had something different.”

Enzler says he encounters many young people today who do not really know the beloved pope. 

“He was a genius, a man of prayer...but he could make anybody feel comfortable. Doesn't matter if he was talking to a Nobel prize [winner] or a homeless person, from the president of a state to a kindergarten schoolteacher,” Enzler said.

“He was capable of making everybody feel comfortable...it was just with a gesture, a caress, with a word, or just with a hug or just simply looking. I would say that in 1,000 years, he will be remembered because of his simplicity.”

Engagement with the world

Weigel, author of the definitive biography of John Paul II, for decades chronicled the pope’s engagement with civic leaders, and the way he influenced the political landscape he inhabited.

The pope famously met with dozens of political figures, in the course of 38 official visits, 738 audiences and meetings held with Heads of State, including with President Ronald Reagan— just a few days before Reagan called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall.

“He thought of himself as the universal pastor of the Catholic Church, dealing with sovereign political actors who were as subject to the universal moral law as anybody else. I think he also had a very shrewd sense of political possibility,” Weigel said. 

“He was willing to be a risk-taker, but he also appreciated that prudence is the greatest of political virtues. And I think he was quite respected by world political leaders because of his transparent integrity. His essential attitude toward these men and women was: how can I help you? What can I do to help?”

Despite his political shrewdness, John Paul II understood his role as primarily a spiritual, rather than political, leader.

This is especially evident, Weigel says, when one looks back on the saint’s speeches in his native Poland during his 1979 visit— one of the first visits outside Italy he made as pope.

“It's not that he didn't talk about politics primarily, he didn't talk about politics at all,” Weigel said.

“Aside from acknowledging the presence of government officials on his arrival in Warsaw on June 2, and acknowledging their presence at his departure from Krakow on June 10th, he simply ignored them.”

The country was then under Communist rule. Catholicism was a centerpiece of Polish culture, as it had been for centuries, despite the Communists’ efforts to stamp it out.

“He spoke to his people about Polish culture, about what made Poland Poland. And at the center of that, of course, in addition to a distinctive history, and distinctive language, distinctive literature— the intensity of Poland's Catholic faith.”

The pope’s primary impact on the world of affairs, Weigel says, was his central role in creating the revolution of conscience which made possible the nonviolent revolution of 1989 and the collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe.

John Paul II had a remarkable capacity to encourage, Weigel said— in the sense of stirring up the courage that is within everybody.

“He embodied the cardinal virtue of courage, which we sometimes call fortitude. And that was faith-based,” he said.

“That was rooted in an absolute conviction that because God the Father had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, and constituted him as Lord and Savior, God was going to get eventually what God wanted in history. And our task is not to imagine that we're going to determine the final outcome of history.”

After John Paul’s visit to his native Poland in 1979, it would be another decade before the Solidarity Party in Poland, with the pope’s encouragement, would finally gain a majority in Parliament, and, largely peacefully, the country would shrug off the shackles of Communism.

Weigel says he believed European Communism would have collapsed at some point of its own “implausibility”— the system was so contradictory to the essential nature of the human person, he said, that it was bound to collapse at some point.

“The reason why it collapsed when it did, in 1989...is because of that revolution of conscience. So, that made a huge difference. It accelerated the collapse of European Communism, and it brought about its demise without massive bloodshed.”

People tend to forget, he said, that the 20th century's normal way of affecting massive social change was enormous bloodletting. There was very little of that during the revolution that toppled communism in much of Europe in 1989— only Romania saw widespread violence.

“In every other respect, this great tyranny was dismantled without bloodshed. That's remarkable, and it might not have happened that way, and it almost certainly would not have happened at that moment in time absent John Paul II.”

Saintly friends

One of John Paul II’s most enduring legacies is the huge number of saints he recognized— he celebrated 147 beatification ceremonies during which he proclaimed 1,338 blesseds, as well as celebrating 51 canonizations for a total of 482 saints.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta is perhaps the most well-known contemporary of John Paul II who is now officially a saint.

Pier Giorgio Frassati, whom John Paul II beatified in 1990, is another well-known holy person that the pope has helped to bring to the world.

Enzler writes in his book that there are several other friends of John Paul who are likely to be saints soon, such as Cardinal Bernadin Gantin, a prelate from Benin who served as Dean of the College of Cardinals— and who confirmed Enzler when he was a child.

Even John Paul’s parents are on their way to sainthood, after Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski of Krakow announced in March 2020 that the archdiocese had opened their beatification processes.

Travels

John Paul II visited some 129 counties during his pontificate— more than any other pope had visited up to that point.

He also created World Youth Days in 1985, and presided over 19 of them as pope.

Weigel says John Paul II understood that the pope must be present to the people of the Church, wherever they are.

“He chose to do it by these extensive travels, which he insisted were not travels, they were pilgrimages,” Wegel said.

“This was the successor of Peter, on pilgrimage to various parts of the world, of the Church. And that's why these pilgrimages were always built around liturgical events, prayer, adoration of the Holy Eucharist, ecumenical and interreligious gatherings— all of this was part of a pilgrimage experience.”

In the latter half of the 20th century— a time of enormous social change and upheaval— John Paul II’s extensive travels, during which he proclaimed the gospel to huge crowds and made headlines wherever he went, were just what the world needed, Weigel said.

“At a moment in history when the Church really seemed to be on the defensive, when a lot of leaders in the Church seemed to have lost confidence in the ability to proclaim the Gospel, it was very important for this compelling human personality to display how vital and alive the Gospel is in the late 20th century and early 21st. So I think it was a good fit for the time,” he said.

“The saints were normal people”

Like his friend St. Teresa of Calcutta, John Paul II occasionally suffered through periods of darkness and doubt. His private diaries, published in 2014, show him agonizing about whether he was doing enough to serve God.

In addition to spiritual suffering, the pope endured an assination attempt by a Turkish terrorist on May 13, 1981, who shot him in the chest— after which he forgave his attacker, and credited Mary’s intercession for his survival.

He also experienced other health problems in the form of severe Parkinson’s Disease in the last few years of his life.

It is the fact that he was able to overcome the dark periods through prayer that Enzler finds most remarkable.

“He was fearless. He was fearless. And that's where I think the emulation for me comes,” Enzler said.

“He knew that suffering was mandatory, because suffering belongs to a higher gospel…that's what he basically showed to me, is that sacrifice and suffering is redemptive.”

Of course, John Paul II is not without critics, and his pontificate not above criticism.

John Paul has often faced criticism for how he handled abusive clergy during his pontificate, with critics pointing especially to the crimes of Marcial Maciel, the now-notorious founder of the Legionaries of Christ religious order. Maciel was only dismissed from ministry after Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.

“I think it's important for people to understand that while this was a man of great spiritual gifts, great intellectual gifts, a luminous personality, a singular capacity for friendship and leadership— this is also a normal human being,” Weigel said.

“He had his dark nights, he had his questions, he had his struggles...and one should not turn him into a plastic car ornament saint. His sanctity is luminous enough coming through this remarkably engaging and attractive human being, that you don't have to plasticize it.

“Enormous potential for the future”

John Paul II was a scholar who promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992, and also reformed the Eastern and Western Codes of Canon Law during his pontificate.

In addition to many books, John Paul II also authored 14 encyclicals, 15 apostolic exhortations, 11 apostolic constitutions, and 45 apostolic letters.

Enzler recommended picking up the pope’s many writings, such as his 1990 encyclical Ex Corde Ecclesiae. Enzler found that document helpful as he started a classical school with his wife.

“In 27 years of pontificate, for sure he either wrote or talked about many of the topics that we are somehow trying to understand. Let's just try and find what he said.”

For his part, Weigel says the Church has really only begun to unpack what he calls the “magisterium” of John Paul II, in the form of his writings and his intellectual influence.

In the United States and throughout the world, for example, John Paul’s Theology of the Body remains enormously influential.

“You've got an entire generation of Catholics, now in their 30s, 40s and 50s— laity, religious, and clergy, who continue to take their inspiration from John Paul II,” Weigel said.

“So if you subtract him from those biographies, it's not clear what you get, but it's clear what you probably wouldn't get, which is this kind of an evangelical fervor. A lot of the Church would still be stuck in institutional maintenance mode.”

One place that John Paul II’s evangelical fervor has taken root has been in Africa. As mentioned before, John Paul II had a particular friendship with Beninese Cardinal Bernadin Gantin, and visited Africa many times.

“John Paul II was fascinated by Africa; he saw African Christianity as living, a kind of new testament experience of the freshness of the Gospel, and he was very eager to support that, and lift it up,” he said.

“It was very interesting that during the two synods on marriage and the family in 2014 and 2015, some of the strongest defenses of the Church's classic understanding of marriage and family came from African bishops. Some of whom are first, second generation Christians, deeply formed in the image of John Paul II, whom they regard as a model bishop.”

“I think wherever you look around the world Church, the living parts of the Church are those that have accepted the Magisterium of John Paul II and Benedict XVI as the authentic interpretation of Vatican II. And the dying parts of the Church, the moribund parts of the Church are those parts that have ignored that Magisterium.”

This article was originally published on CNA May 15, 2020.