04/02/2008, 00.00
VATICAN
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May the Church follow in John Paul II’s evangelising mission, says Pope

Three years after the death of John Paul II, Benedict XVI in celebrating Mass talked about his predecessor’s “Do not be afraid,” words which Pope Wojtyła reiterated to the Church and to humanity, and about his trust in Divine Mercy, the only source of hope for man.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – May the Church, following John Paul II’s “teachings and examples,” “faithfully and without compromise continue its evangelising mission, and tirelessly spread the merciful love of Christ, source of true peace for the whole world.” In uttering these words, which are at the same time prayer, commitment and hope, Benedict XVI expressed the lasting relationship of the Christian community and today’s world to the late Pope. He did so as he celebrated Mass in St Peter’s Square three years to the day since his predecessor’s passing.

Some 40,000 people came to hear him, almost the same “great crowd in prayer,” as Benedict XVI said, who on the evening of 2 April 2005, crammed the square in prayer, listening in impressive silence as the death of Pope Wojtyła was announced.

As if to evoke those moments, the Holy Father chose to enter the square on foot, via the bronze gate through which John Paul II’s body left for the last time.

“For various days the Vatican Basilica and this square were truly the heart of the world,” Pope Ratzinger said today; “an endless stream of pilgrims paying tribute to the body of the Venerated Pontiff and his funeral showing even more the esteem and affection in which he was held by so many believers and people in every corner of the world.”

Today the wind that swept the square on the day of the funeral service was not blowing, but there were tens and tens of cardinals and bishops, starting with Card Stanisław Dziwisz, who was his secretary from his days as archbishop of Kraków, whose chair he now occupies, with next to the altar many of those who in various capacities accompanied him in his very long pontificate; from the Polish nuns who took care of him to the men who provided his security. There were Polish flags and banners from Kraków, Wadowice and other cities, some that read “Saint Now,” an issue—John Paul II’s beatification—Benedict XVI did not address.

“We cannot forget,” he said as personal memories flooded back to the man who for 23 years was at John Paul II’s side as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, recollections that include his predecessor’s ability to isolate himself from the whole world as he kneeled in prayer, whose intercession he invoked, recalling his “Don’t be afraid,” words that echoed across this same square on 22 October 1978 during the ceremony that launched his pontificate. Words, as Benedict XVI noted, the Angel of Resurrection uttered to the women in Christ’s empty sepulchre, which “became almost a motto on Pope John Paul II’s lips since the solemn start of his Petrine ministry. [Words] he repeated [. . .] to the Church and to mankind many times as the year 2000 approached, and after that, at the dawn of the third millennium. He uttered them with the same inflexible firmness, first carrying the pastoral staff ending in the Cross and, when his physical strength was waning, almost hanging onto it, until the last Good Friday when he took part in the Via Crucis from his private chapel holding the Cross in his arms.”

“We cannot forget his last and silent witness of love for Jesus. The eloquent scene of human suffering and faith that we saw on the last Good Friday also showed believers and the world the secret of what a complete Christian life is. His “Do not be afraid” was not based on human strength, or on his successes, but solely on the Word of God, the Cross and Christ’s Resurrection. As he lost everything, including his power of speech, his reliance on Christ became increasingly manifest. As was the case for Jesus, so did in the end John Paul II make the ultimate sacrifice, that of giving himself. Death sealed an existence that was given over to Christ, even physically confirming his signs of suffering and trusting abandonment into the arms of the Celestial Father. ‘Let me go to the Father,’ were his last words, as those close to him can bear witness to, thus fulfilling a life totally bent on knowing and contemplating the face of the Lord.”

Today, Benedict XVI reminded his audience, was the start of the first World Congress of Divine Mercy, highlighting that “God’s mercy,” he said so himself, is a privileged key to read John Paul II’s pontificate. The late Pope wanted the message of God’s merciful love to reach every man, urging the faithful to bear witness (cf homily in Kraków-Łagiewniki, on 18 August 2002). For this reason he raised to the honours of the altar Sister Faustina Kowalska, a humble nun who, because of some mysterious divine plan, became a prophetic messenger of Divine Mercy. The servant of God John Paul II personally experienced and lived through the huge tragedies of the 20th century, and for a long time asked himself what could be done to halt the tide of evil. His answer could not be found except in God’s love. Only Divine Mercy can in fact limit evil; only God’s all-powerful love can beat the wicked’s arrogance and selfishness’ and hate’s destructive power. For this reason in his last trip to his homeland of Poland he said that “apart from the mercy of God there is no other source of hope for mankind.” (FP)

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