Pope: I pray that John Paul II "may soon be elevated to the glory of the altars".

A pilgrimage to the origins of Wojtyla's faith, of his devotion to Mary, to the discovery of merciful Love, of priesthood: a catechesis for all the Christians of the world.  

Krakow (AsiaNews) – The pilgrimage "in the footsteps" of his predecessor today led Pope Ratzinger to Wadowice, the native city of John Paul II, then to the Marian sanctuary of Kalwaria, and finally to the tomb of Faustina Kowalska, the sister canonized by Wojtyla, linked to apparitions of Jesus and the devotion of Divine Mercy (Wojtyla died on the eve of this feast, 2 April 2005).

It was above all in Wadowice (where "everything began", as John Paul II would say in '99), that Benedict XVI paused to seek to understand the personality "of the poet" Wojtyla, confessing before thousands of residents and pilgrims: "I wished to stop precisely here, in Wadowice, in the place where his faith began and matured, to pray together with all of you that he may soon be elevated to the glory of the altars."

Pope Ratzinger, who – as he has admitted many times – feels the helping hand of John Paul II in his ministry, recalled the "special veneration" that Wojtyla had for the baptismal font of the Church of Wadowice, where – as he himself used to say, "I was given the grace to become a son of God, together with faith in my Redeemer, and I was welcomed into the community of the Church". This devotion is a key to understanding "the consistency of his faith, the radicalism of his Christian life and the desire for sanctity that he continuously manifested".

This statement was swiftly turned into a suggestion for Poles of today: "The way of an authentically Christian life equals faithfulness to the promises of holy Baptism. The watchword of this pilgrimage: 'Stand firm in your faith', finds in this place its concrete dimension that can be expressed with the exhortation: 'Stand firm in the observance of your baptismal promises'. A witness of just such a faith – of whom this place speaks in a very special way – is the Servant of God John Paul II."

And recalling the growth of Wojtyla's faith and priestly vocation through participation in the life of his parish of Wadowice, Benedict XVI underlined his call to Polish bishops to to do everything possible to ensure that the Polish parish would  truly be an "ecclesial community" and a "family of the Church".

The Pontiff said Wojtyla's Marian devotion also grew at Wadowice, where the image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help is venerated and where there is "the custom of daily prayer in front of her by the school children". Benedict XVI continued: "This memory helps us arrive at the source of the conviction that nourished John Paul II – the conviction regarding the exceptional place that the Mother of God had in his life, a conviction that he himself, filled with devotion, expressed in the motto 'Totus tuus'. Until the last moments of his earthly pilgrimage he remained faithful to this dedication."

Returning to Krakow, Benedict XVI stopped at the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Łagiewniki and prayed before the tomb of St Faustina Kowalska, where the young Karol Wojtyla would often go, first as a worker and then as a clandestine seminarian. The canonization of Sr Faustina and the naming of the feast of Divine Mercy on the Sunday in Albis (second Sunday of Easter) are thanks to John Paul II. In his writings and his encyclicals, he always reflected on Mercy as God's response to evil, especially the evils of the XX century and totalitarian ideologies.

Benedict XVI took up this theme and made it his. Speaking in the Basilica of Divine Mercy in the presence of hundreds of sick people and thousands of pilgrims gathered outside, he said: "On this occasion we encounter two mysteries: the mystery of human suffering and the mystery of Divine Mercy. At first sight these two mysteries seem to be opposed to one another. But when we study them more deeply in the light of faith, we find that they are placed in reciprocal harmony through the mystery of the Cross of Christ. As Pope John Paul II said in this place: 'the Cross is the most profound bowing down of the Divinity towards man … the Cross is like a touch of eternal love on the most painful wounds of humanity's earthly existence' (17 August 2002). Dear friends who are sick, who are marked by suffering in body or soul, you are most closely united to the Cross of Christ, and at the same time, you are the most eloquent witnesses of God's mercy. Through you and through your suffering, he bows down towards humanity with love. You who say in silence: 'Jesus, I trust in you' teach us that there is no faith more profound, no hope more alive and no love more ardent than the faith, hope and love of a person who in the midst of suffering places himself securely in God's hands. May the human hands of those who care for you in the name of mercy be an extension of the open hands of God.

"I would so willingly embrace each one of you. But since this is impossible, I draw you spiritually to my heart, and I impart my Blessing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

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