Blessed John Paul II

Source: Dominic Quah

In today’s liturgy, the Church proposes for our reflection these words of the Lord:

“See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” (Luke 12:36)

Today’s liturgy also commemorates the memory of Pope John Paul II who will be canonised next April. 

I’d like to suggest contemplating some of his legacy.

(1) ZEAL
Beginning his papacy on this day in 1978, he brought to it an “athleticism” of a considerably young Pope at age 58. (Pope Benedict XVI was elected at age 78, Pope Francis is 76.)

Popes had become Bishops of Rome almost in name only. Pope John Paul II set about visiting all of the then more than 200 Roman parishes.

These Roman visits were coupled with countless visits abroad. Never before in history had so many seen the Pope in person, and on their native soil too. Pope John Paul II was in Singapore in Nov 1986, and kissed our ground, as was his custom upon first arrival on foreign soil.

In his desire to propose examples of holiness, especially in our own times, Pope John Paul II canonised more saints than all his predecessors put together!

The body of his teaching is immense. His official documents and catecheses brought fresh attention and new understanding on living the faith in the 3rd Millennium.

Amongst so many teachings, his “theology of the body” brought new understanding of the dignity of our sexuality and its high vocation.

Pope John Paul’s athleticism wasn’t just because of his relative youth in the early days but also borne of the life of a keen sportsman. (He had reputedly – the Vatican would not confirm reports! – built a swimming pool inside the Vatican because he couldn’t exercise in the outdoors as easily as before!)

This athleticism made it all the more painful when Pope John Paul II was debilitated by Parkinson’s Disease which restricted his movement and speech.

He bore these humiliations and privations in public – slow movement, slurred speech, drool and all.

I was in Rome at celebrations for his 25th anniversary (2003) as Pope, and it was very, very painful to witness his cross.

These legacies and many more would not be possible but for his intensive prayer life, his deep relationship with the Lord.

As Pope, he had a private chapel. He had an office, of course. He moved a desk into the chapel.

Many of the deep and moving documents that he wrote, were written at the desk in his chapel: fruit of his adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

Once, the nuns who worked for him were worried after he had not been seen for a long time. The doors to the chapel were shut. They peeped through the keyhole. The Pope was prostrate on the marble floor, lying face down in prayer.

When, after a very long illness, Pope John Paul II died in the early hours of 2 April 2005, his closest associates by his deathbed broke into song, chanting the Church’s “official” thanksgiving hymn: Te Deum laudamus! To God be praise!

Such was his witness. There was no doubt of his saintliness.

In the meantime, St Peter’s Square was crowded with a candlelit vigil. Young people had especially wanted to gather. They were most dear to the Pope – World Youth Day was his initiative – to whom throughout his more than 25 years of papacy he’d challenged to open their doors, their hearts to Christ.

“See that you are dressed for action and have your lamps lit.”

Blessed John Paul II has done so, and his example challenges us all to do the same.


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