Moscow (AsiaNews) John Paul II was "like the Moses of our era, who led our Church into the third millennium," said Mgr Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, Metropolitan of Moscow.
In a letter of exhortation to pray addressed to the faithful of his archdiocese, that of the Virgin Mary of Moscow, Metropolitan Kondrusiewicz celebrates the greatness of the pontificate of John Paul II, who reiterated the centrality of Christ in the life of the Church and fought relentlessly to defend human dignity.
In his letter, the Archbishop reminds the faithful the contribution of the "Slavic Pope" to the Catholic Church in Russia and urges them not to let his efforts wither away.
In the end, Moscow was but a dream in John Paul II's pastoral work; it that never turned into an official visit because of the opposition of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In the letter, Metropolitan Kondrusiewicz invites both laity and clergy to join in prayer so that the election of the new leader of the Universal Church is "not be something unconnected with the People of God and concerning the College of electors alone, but [is] in a certain sense an act of the whole Church" (Universi Dominici Gregis, p. 84).
He exhorts the priests of the archdiocese to read his message to the faithful next Sunday, April 17, eve of the Conclave that will elect the next Pope.
Here is the full text of the letter:
Dear faithful in the Risen Lord of the Archdiocese of the Virgin Mary,
1. On the Eve of the Solemnity of the Divine Mercy, April 2, 2995, the Lord called to Him Pope John Paul II, who had steered the Universal Church for more than 25 years.
An eminent pastor and leader left this earthly life, a poet who appreciated the arts, a splendid witness for the Gospel.
A Pontiff open to his fellow man and to the world left us, a man who defended relentlessly human dignity, rights and liberty.
In his work, John Paul II asserted moral principles and came down in favour of social justice and peace; he understood our age and accordingly responded to its challenges, respecting the guiding principles of the Gospel.
The late Pope gave back to the world its lost hopes and was the conscience of our times.
During John Paul II's pontificate, the Church has travelled a long way along the path of renewal and progress in accordance with the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council and post-Council teachings.
The Church is now more open to the world, to other denominations and religions.
Her ship has put out into deep water and set sail (cf Luke, 5: 4), engaged in more effective social and pastoral activities in line with the times.
John Paul II was the Moses of our times, leading the Church into the third millennium. What is more, he led the Church in this brave new world, showing the ways of her pastoral work at this moment of her development.
He continuously stressed that everything must start again from Christ, our gaze more than ever firmly set on the face of the Lord (cf Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte, 16, 29).
The Saviour was always at the centre of the Pope's actions and this leads us to Mary.
The appeal he made at the beginning of his pontificate"Don't be afraid! Open your doors to Christ!was realised when the totalitarian regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed, their peoples free to follow the path towards democracy, their fundamental rights such as freedom of religion, protected. Moreover, thanks to his ministry many people have felt the need to seek out eternal values.
As a Slavic Pope he especially loved Russia. How many deeds were there, showing his good will, his respect for our motherland, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Great Russian culture during his pontificate! Did we see them? Did we appreciate their significance and value? Did we bear the tensions within the pontificate and understand that Europe's soul beats with two hearts, one in the East and one in the West? Did we take advantage of all the opportunities the Pope gave us during his 26 years at the helm of the Church?
The restoration of the institutions of the Catholic Church in Russia will be forever tied to the name of John Paul II (when four permanent dioceses were set up on February 11, 2002).
Let us not forget his continued prayers and concerns.
When I met him for the last time on March 8 at Rome's Gemelli hospital, the Pope asked me: "How are things in Moscow?" It was the last question the late leader of the Universal Church left us as his legacy. . .
Let us look at ourselves in light of this question. Let us always ask ourselves: "How are things in Moscow?" How is the archdiocese doing? What can we do collectively and individually to improve things? Are we living according to the moral principles of the Gospel and the teachings of the Church?
The Golgotha John Paul II climbed on the last few months of his life was a shining example of God's will in the making, a model of how in frailty the titanic force of the spirit manifests itself and is capable of changing the world.
The silent ebbing away of his life in the joy and trust of Mary was an unequalled homily to the world.
All this gave him the deserved admiration of the entire world and the respect of Catholics but also of representatives of other denominations and religions, of people of good will, of political leaders, of people of the world of culture, and others.
His illness and death brought the world together in prayer and solidarity.
The memory of the Pope became a race for unparallel spiritual exercises never seen before.
From every corner of the world, millions of people flocked to St Peter's Basilica in Rome to pay their last respect and take their leave from the late Pontiff.
Billions around the world did the same via modern communication media, including in Russia, and we are grateful to Russian media for their coverage from the bottom of our hearts.
The last rites for the leader of the Universal Church turned into an unprecedented summit of world political and religious leaders. As the ceremony unfolded, politicians who previously would not talk to one another now extended the hand of peace to one another in St Peter's Square.
People wept and applauded, their tears of inconsolable sadness turning into pearls of gratitude.
The devotion to John Paul II, which sprung up immediately after his death and flooded the world in just a few days, underscores the true measure of the man and gives us hope that he will be quickly elevated to celestial glory.
The ministry of Karol Wojtyła has come to an end and he is already being celebrated as John Paul the Great. Historians have their task cut out to evaluate his pontificate.
But life does not stop; it keeps on going. And for this reason, as painful as the loss is, we must see it through the prism of the Resurrection, wishing the late Pontiff greatness in the Kingdom of Heaven, hopeful that he will act as our intercessor.
2. As a living organism the Church cannot be without a leader. According to Church Law, the College of Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church must choose John Paul II's successor.
Such a choice is made at a meeting of cardinals called a conclave, which literally means 'locked under key (con clave); cut off from the world, the cardinals pray and reflect upon the future of the Church, and must choose a new leader. The conclave begins on April 18.
We must keep in mind that the election to the leadership of the biggest Church in the world with its billions of followers is different from ordinary elections.
The Office of Pontiff includes the ministry Christ entrusted to the Apostle Peter. By virtue of this office the Pope possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely (cf Canon Law, can. 331). The Pontiff, as the head of the college of bishops guides the Church and defines its lines of development according to the needs of the times.
What a responsibility and cross to bear!
Undoubtedly the leader of the Church is chosen by the Holy Spirit, but through the cardinals who are His instrument.
In the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis on the vacancy of the Apostolic See and the election of the Roman Pontiff of February 22, 1996, John Paul II pointed out that:
"During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, and above all during the time of the election of the Successor of Peter, the Church is united in a very special way with her Pastors and particularly with the Cardinal electors of the Supreme Pontiff, and she asks God to grant her a new Pope as a gift of his goodness and providence. Indeed, following the example of the first Christian community spoken of in the Acts of the Apostles (cf 1:14), the universal Church, spiritually united with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, should persevere with one heart in prayer; thus the election of the new Pope will not be something unconnected with the People of God and concerning the College of electors alone, but will be in a certain sense an act of the whole Church. I therefore lay down that in all cities and other places, at least the more important ones, as soon as news is received of the vacancy of the Apostolic See and, in particular, of the death of the Pope, and following the celebration of his solemn funeral rites, humble and persevering prayers are to be offered to the Lord (cf Mt 21: 22; Mk 11: 24), that he may enlighten the electors and make them so likeminded in their task that a speedy, harmonious and fruitful election may take place, as the salvation of souls and the good of the whole People of God demand"
It is therefore our sacred duty to pray to God that through the election by the College of Cardinals, the Holy Spirit can show us who shall be next at the helm of St Peter to steer the Church in the turbulent waters of the early 21st century.
May the Spirit descend and show us God's Will, and name he to whom Christ shall repeat the words told to Peter 2000 years ago: "Feed my sheep" (John, 21:17).
3. Dear brothers and sisters,
Let our prayers rise to God All-Mighty, that the College of Cardinals may choose the most worthy and capable successor to Peter of our times, the rock (cf Mt, 16:18) that shall lead the Universal Church.
May Divine Providence place someone in this office, as John Paul II's will and spiritual testament requests, who can continue the successful implementation of the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council and promote the fruitful development of the Church to the greater glory of the Lord and for the salvation of mankind.
With my blessing
Moscow, April 12 2005