An impressive Marian vigil in St Peter's square recalled the "faithfulness" and "dedication" of the Polish pope to Christ, the Church and man. Benedict XVI highlighted the proclamation of Christ as Wojtyla's "spiritual heritage", and urged youth to be "disciples of Christ" and "morning watchmen", the signs of new things in the third millennium. There was a television link-up with Krakow.
Vatican City (AsiaNews) John Paul II "continues to be present in our minds and our hearts; he continues to communicate his love for God and his love for man to us; he continues to stimulate in everyone, especially youth, enthusiasm for good and courage to follow Christ and his teachings". This was how Benedict XVI recalled the memory of the Servant of God, John Paul II, one year after his death. He was speaking from the window of his study to a crowd of people packed in St Peter's Square.
At 9pm, the pope introduced the rosary organized by the Diocese of Rome. He spoke close to 9.37pm, the same time the Polish pope died last year. More than 60,000 people participated in the prayer and Marian vigil that was alternated with hymns and extracts from the writings of Karol Wojtyla.
All the faithful carried flambeaux, filling St Peter's square with a sea of light. There were many banners, tapestries and Polish flags, especially from Wadowice, the birthplace of John Paul II. During the vigil, the faithful followed a live transmission of the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) held in the square of the Archbishop's Curia in Krakow, presided over by Card. Stanislaw Dziwisz, former secretary of Pope Wojtyla.
The pope remained kneeling throughout the rosary, covered in a red mantle; some lamps illuminated his person, visible from the square.
Benedict XVI greeted Cardinal Ruini, the animator of the evening, and Cardinal Dziwisz, together with all the city of Rome "gathered here for this moving moment of reflection and prayer".
The pope summed up the life of John Paul II in the words "faithfulness" and "dedication": "Total faithfulness to God and unreserved dedication to his mission as Shepherd of the universal Church." Recalling the complete gift of self of Wojtyla even during his long illness, Benedict XVI said the deceased pope's suffering has borne fruit in the world: "His sickness faced with courage made everyone more aware of human suffering, of every physical and spiritual pain; he gave suffering dignity and value, testifying how man is not worthy because of his efficiency or his appearance but for himself, because he is created and loved by God. Through words and gestures, the much-loved John Paul II never tired of showing the world that if man allows himself to be embraced by God, he is not detracting from the richness of his humanity; if he remains with Him wholeheartedly, he loses nothing. On the contrary, an encounter with Christ makes our life more passionate."
Putting his finger on the reason why so many people, marked by John Paul II's witness, still remember him today, Benedict XVI added: "Precisely because he came ever closer to God in prayer, contemplation, love for Truth and Beauty, our beloved pope could accompany each of us on our journey, and talk with authority even to those who are far from the Christian faith."
At the end, Benedict XVI invited all to receive with decision "the spiritual heritage" that Pope John Paul II left, underlining above all the courage to bear witness and courage for mission: "On the first anniversary of his return to the House of the Father, we are invited this evening to receive once again the spiritual heritage he left us; we are stimulated, among other things, to live a tireless search for the Truth that alone will fulfill our hearts. We are encouraged not to be afraid to follow Christ, to bear to all the news of the Gospel that ferments a more fraternal humanity in solidarity."
Youth have been left a special "heritage". The same young people who last year accompanied Wojtyla in his agony with a non-stop vigil in St Peter's square, and who followed him in many World Youth Days, are called to be disciples of Christ and a sign of new things in the third millennium: "John Paul II helps us from heaven to proceed on our journey, to remain docile disciples of Jesus, to be, as he himself loved to repeat time and again to youth, 'morning watchmen' at this start of the third Christian millennium."
There was a special message in Polish for the faithful gathered in Poland and linked up to Rome. While many white and red flags fluttered in the square, Benedict XVI said: "Let us unite in spirit with the Polish people who have gathered in Krakow, Warsaw and other places for the vigil. The memory of John Paul II is alive in us and the feeling of his spiritual presence is not extinguished. May the memory of the particular love he had for his co-nationals always be for you a light on the way to Christ. "Remain strong in faith". I give you my heartfelt blessings."
Before ending with a blessing, Benedict XVI called for the intercession of Mary "the Mother of the Redeemer, for whom he [John Paul II] always had a tender devotion" for all.
From Poland, via television link, Card. Dziwisz thanked the pope for his words about Wojtyla. He said that for a year now, all the devotion and affection for John Paul II have been pouring on Benedict XVI, witness to a "great chapter of the Gospel".