October 22 will be the Feast Day of Blessed Pope John Paul II.
The Holy See made the announcement yesterday.
October 22 in 1978 was the day Pope John Paul II was installed as Bishop of Rome, successor of St. Peter, and head of the Universal Church (he had been elected six days earlier, on October 16).
Some of you have been writing to ask when the Feast Day will be, so that’s the answer.
At the same time, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, published the opening prayer for the feast day Mass. The prayer — called a “collect” — was written in Latin and translated into several languages, including English:
O God, who are rich in mercy
and who willed that the Blessed John Paul II
should preside as Pope over your universal Church,
grant, we pray, that instructed by his teaching,
we may open our hearts to the saving grace of Christ,
the sole Redeemer of mankind.
Who lives and reigns...
Now for some, John Paul II remains controversial.
There is even a petition being promoted by a group of Catholics who contend that John Paul should not be beatified on May 1. They argue that, though he was stalwart and heroic in some ways — particularly in defense of human life in time in the West that (astonishingly) embraced legalized abortion as if it were a matter of no moral concern whatsoever — he was weak and ineffective in others: too ecumenical (the Assisi prayer meeting in 1986, cited as an occasion when he allowed the Church to be drawn in to a type of religious syncretism which would have shocked many Catholic saints and theologians of past centuries — and did shock Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the time) and too ineffective in handling problems like the sexual abuse crisis.
What are we to make of these concerns?
No one can deny that the Church has suffered in profound ways in these years, that she has been, in fact, repeatedly betrayed, through the human weaknesses and sins of many of her leaders, and members, in what they have done, and in what they have failed to do.
But I keep receiving messages and emails from people who were inspired by John Paul II, and who loved him. I just received one today: “Just wanted to share this with you… Pope John Paul II’s appeal truly continues to go beyond the grave… It really brings a tear to the eye!” (Muriel Nathan)
I do not wish to enter here into any extended discussion of John Paul’s life and pontificate. But it may be worth asking one simple question: Why has Pope Benedict decided to beatify John Paul, so soon, and knowing the concerns raised by some of his critics?
The question is not improper. It is being asked even in Rome.
The answer that is being given is that John Paul is being beatified, not because of his administration or leadership of the Church, but because of his personal holiness.
In a phrase, because, in his holiness, he was, and is, “an image of Christ.”
And bringing people to Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the World, by every means possible is the essence of being a saint.
This is how Cardinal Angelo Amato, the head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints in Rome — the dicastery which oversees all beatification and canonization causes — explained it recently to Cindy Wooden of Catholic News Service.
Amato told Wooden that “beatification and canonization are not recognitions of someone’s superior understanding of theology, nor of the great works he or she accomplished,” Wooden wrote April 1. “Declaring someone a saint, the Church attests to the fact that he or she lived the Christian virtues in a truly extraordinary way and is a model to be imitated by others, the cardinal said. The candidate, he said, must be perceived ‘as an image of Christ.'”
(Here is a link to the complete article: https://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1101302.htm)
But then we might ask: what way did John Paul make clear this holiness?
And we might answer: through his prayer.
In other ways as well, but especially through his prayer.
Just as Jesus prayed, long and often and alone, so too did John Paul pray long, and often, and alone…
John Paul prayed with a fervor and a love of God which may be edifying even to those who feel he made errors of judgment in leading the Church.
In this context, I publish here a little article by Angela Ambrogetti, an Italian journalist who lives and works in Rome and writes for us at Inside the Vatican.
It is an article where an Italian cardinal, Cardinal Giovanni Coppa, reveals what he saw once when he opened a chapel door where John Paul was praying alone — and more importantly, what he heard.
He heard John Paul singing.
In front of the Eucharist.
In praise of Christ and in thanksgiving for Christ.
(The article appears in our April “Special Issue” on Pope John Paul II’s beatification, which just came out. This 96-page double issue, is a “Commemorative Issue” and for those of you who don’t subscribe to the magazine, it might be an issue you would like to order and keep. In fact, why not consider taking out a year’s subscription, and you can have this issue as a free gift! I’ll start your subscription with this issue, and not charge you for it. I don’t need to tell you, in this day and age, that printing and publishing a magazine can be a rough business, so I do hope some of you might consider supporting us by taking out a subscription — it only come to about nine cents (!) a day over the course of a year, yet it is critical to our survival that we have subscribers…)
We might conclude by saying: people saw how John Paul prayed. They saw it, and were moved by it.
I myself saw it. I remember once kneeling not far from him as he prepared to pray the Rosary, and he didn’t start for almost 30 minutes, and during those 30 minutes I myself felt “drawn in” to John Paul’s mystical contemplation of human and divine things, from the mystery of iniquity to the even greater mystery of salvation, which is the heart of our faith.
Cardinal Giovanni Coppa
The Pope Never Stopped Praying
By Angela Ambrogetti
Not many people know that John Paul II wrote on top of each page of text he wrote, the words of the prayer he also chose as his motto: Totus Tuus (“Entirely Thine”, meaning he was given over entirely to the love and protection of the Virginb Mary).
The words are from the great French saint and mystic, St. Louis Marie de Montfort Gringnon. This was recently revealed by Cardinal Giovanni Coppa, papal nuncio in Prague for years and friend of John Paul II.
The occasion was a meeting in Rome for the presentation of a DVD with three video clips of unreleased songs devoted to Karol Wojtyla from the tenor and author Joseph Raphael Bossio. In the video there are some rare images from the 1960s of the Polish Pope retrieved by Monsignor Jarek Cielecka, director of the Vatican Service News Agency.
The cardinal shared a few personal memories of the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1997 in the Czech Republic. Monsignor Coppa was the Papal Nuncio in the Slavic country.
“He had already come to Czechoslovakia in 1990,” the cardinal said, “stopping in Prague, Velehrad and Bratislava just after the Berlin Wall fell. On that occasion, President Havel gave that famous speech orchestrated with the words we all still remember: I do not know what a miracle is, but if miracles exist, the coming of the Pope today is certainly one.
“In 1995, John Paul II came for the second time, stopping in Prague, Bohemia and Olomouc in Moravia for the canonization of two Czech saints. But he also wanted to cross the border to neighboring Poland, where he stopped to pray at the tomb of his brother, a physician.
“And in 1997 he came again to Prague and Hradec Kralove, where he celebrated World Youth Day. The Pope was already suffering physically and beginning to use a cane, and to joke about it with young people, who were always eager to rally around him, but was still in good form, and continued to use the stairs without using the lift.
“The first night after the arrival and dinner with the bishops, he stopped in the chapel in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The nuns had prepared for him a big kneeler, but he preferred to pray in the back. I waited for him outside the chapel. The next night I was detained by urgent phone calls and commitments and could not accompany him to the Chapel. I arrived later, when he was already kneeling.
“Before entering, I heard a faint music, but when I opened the door quietly I heard that kneeling on the bench, he sang softly in front of the tabernacle. The Pope sang softly in front of Jesus in the Eucharist. The Pope and Christ in the Host! Peter and Christ. It was a very moving thing for me, a very strong call to faith and love, to the Eucharist and the reality of the Petrine ministry. I have never forgotten his faint song, which was like a meeting of love between Christ, the invisible Head of the Church, and the Pope who is its visible head.
“I have told this episode only once in the Czech Republic. Today I want to do it for his beatification, because it tells in a magnificent way that we must have a lively, intimate and profound relationship with Jesus in the Eucharist. It shows in a superlative way that the source of coherence, energy, enthusiasm and a natural depth of Pope John Paul II was his relationship to God through prayer, his ongoing encounter with God, being in love with Christ and feeling loved by him.”
Cardinal Coppa also recalled how the Slavic peoples loved the Pope who came from the East. The Church emerged from the catacombs and society, after the fall of communism, had to be reborn, the cardinal said.
“President Havel told me twice that John Paul II had played a key role in the fall of communism. Certainly, he said, there were also other reasons for the victory of freedom over communism, but without the Pope, the result would not have been so sudden and unexpected. Havel and Pope met in an informal and friendly way. Each one spoke his own language and they understood each other perfectly.
“What attracted the sympathies of all to Pope John Paul II, was the fact that he was the first Slavic Pope in history. During his visit he was always surrounded by a sea of people. The people who for 40 years had been transformed by the Bolshevik propaganda against religion, began to understand what was the Church, a mystery of communion and brotherhood, which would bring men together through faith in God and love of Christ, denied for so long time.”