04/02/2005, 00.00
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John Paul II spent himself offering Christ to man

by Bernardo Cervellera

"It is finished." The words of Jesus on the Cross are perfectly suited to the life of one of the longest-living pontiffs, one who lived the full range of human expression: from lively activity to immobility; from preaching to the powerful and the wretched of the world, to the silence of his final days.

With his 104 apostolic voyages, John Paul II covered over 1,099,000 kilometres, 26 times around the world in almost 26 years of pontificate. He spent the last months in the Vatican and at the Gemelli Hospital: there were weeks of silence, with the Pope transported in a wheelchair, lifted in view of the faithful to impart his muted blessing.

More than a few people criticized this "ostentation of suffering", this display of illness through the media.  Yet this ostentation (the word brings to mind the "ostensory", the precious instrument of gold or silver used in the Church to store consecrated hosts and to bless the people) could not have been closer to the culmination of Jesus' life who said of Himself, "when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw everyone to myself (Jn 12, 32). And this Pope, atop his wheelchair, transported here and there, was truly like a living ostensory who bore in his worn-out fibre Christ's same passion, he too lifted in silence onto the Cross.

A friend of the Pope, Tadeusz Styczen, attributes to the Cardinal Wojtyla an important wish: to remain close to Jesus on the Mount of Olives. There, where all the apostles and the disciples pitifully abandoned the Master, Wojtyla wanted to be true. The Pope's second-last book, "Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way", takes its title precisely from Jesus' invitation to the disciples to share in his passion.

He followed Jesus even in the throes of death, to the last: this is what characterized, almost literally, John Paul II's last months. But his being moved about, almost impotent, in these last months, is not the opposite of the fervent activity of his pontificate.  Statistics tell us that he visited 620 places in 129 states, delivering over 2,400 speeches. But the strength to have done so much came from the desire to spend himself in the effort to follow Jesus, to the extremes of physical resistance, overcoming diplomatic barriers, going beyond programmes and roles, reaching dictators and queens, miners and campesinos, the young and the old, the fortunate and the pariah. His silence as well as his words were a constant appeal to the entire world: "Open, open wide the doors to Christ!" because only Christ knows that muddle that is the human heart, only Christ's love can touch and change for the better the life of man and of society. Crossing the globe, walls, fences, embracing peoples and religions, John Paul II wished to hasten the world's opening to Christ, bringing Him as close as possible to the heart of every man.

In his efforts across borders and barriers, he overcame ideologies.  In the century that saw the triumph of ideologies, John Paul II displayed their failure: the claim of being effective while leaving individuals to rot in poverty, in prison, through elimination, through manipulation.

In this defence and love of man "from the maternal womb until death", he rocked the Church too: not the bearer of values, ideas, revelations, but that of Christ Himself and how he spent himself for every person, for the truth of each individual on the face of the earth.  "Christ is the way of the Church" and "man is the way of the Church": these lines traced with his first encyclical are the roadmap for the Christian community in the third millennium.  And the witness of this pope, John Paul the Great, accompanies us on our way.
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See also
Pope talks about the Middle East, the Holy Land and the food crisis with Bush
The Pope's legacy in the two Koreas
Three million mourners in Rome for Pope's funeral
Wojtyła's death and the promising seed
Prayers for the conclave, conferences on John Paul II


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