The passing of Pope John Paul II
It was with these words - “follow me” - that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger commenced his homily at the funeral of our great Holy Father John Paul II. He used them as a theme throughout as he sketched the remarkable life of Karol Wojtyla.
As he recalled, these are the last words used by the Risen Christ to Peter, to his disciples, chosen to shepherd his flock. These are words we can well reflect upon. They are a key to an understanding of this most remarkable of pontificates.
To so many Catholics through out the world - all those about 35 years of age and under - he was the only Pope they would have ever known. It was to the young that John Paul had such an instant and obvious appeal. They returned his openhearted love for them with a spontaneous enthusiasm that was demonstrated time and time again at those dramatic World Youth Days that the Pope, himself, had instigated. He wanted to meet them, to talk to them, to bless their youth and strengthen their Faith. They wanted to see him, to observe first hand his prayerfulness, his love of Christ and His Blessed Mother.
As the TV cameras swept over this massive funeral gathering one thing became immediately obvious – the preponderance of young people present. They had indeed taken his words to heart: “Be not afraid “– “follow me”. Not for them the joyless predictions of dissenting theologians, not for them the New Age gobbly-di-gook of fanatical feminist nuns, not for them the faint hearted compromises of timid bishops and clergy. No. If the Catholic Church meant anything to them, it was the Church that he personified as its Supreme Pontiff; it was the Faith of John Paul II.
For the older generations present at this funeral, and there were many thousands of them as well, and for the many millions watching on TV throughout the world, John Paul II, no doubt, signified different things for different people. To Poles he was the catalyst of the freedom of their country from totalitarian communism; he was a Polish patriot and hero. To Europeans he was the trigger that brought down the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the Cold War. To many faithful Catholics everywhere, particularly in the Western world he was, indeed, the “rock” of certainty, the final sane point of reference in the midst of theological dissention, liturgical mayhem and church building “wreckovation”.
Throughout the years of his pontificate there was one message that never wavered, that was repeated time and time again. That was his insistence that the God-given sanctity and intrinsic dignity of each and every human person be recognized and protected from conception till natural death. The “culture of death” was to be opposed and thwarted no matter what form it took.
Let us pray that the Cardinal Electors open themselves to the Holy Spirit. Whoever they select will not fill the same footprints as John Paul II. He will make his own. However as long as he walks in the same direction with the same purposeful but humble Faith then we will be truly blessed.Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, may perpetual light shine upon him, and may he rest in peace. Amen.