In 1978, after the very short papacy of Pope John Paul I, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla was chosen to be his successor, to the surprise of mostly everyone in the Church. There was something very different about him from the beginning. He was the first non-Italian Pope in 445 years, he denied the papal tiara, and he also broke tradition by addressing the crowd gathered in St. Peter's Square:
"Dear brothers and sisters, we are saddened at the death of our beloved Pope John Paul I, and so the cardinals have called for a new bishop of Rome. They called him from a faraway land – far and yet always close because of our communion in faith and Christian traditions. I was afraid to accept that responsibility, yet I do so in a spirit of obedience to the Lord and total faithfulness to Mary, our most Holy Mother. I am speaking to you in your – no, our Italian language. If I make a mistake, please forgive me…"The Church knew this was the beginning of something incredible.
JP II was more traveled than any other Pope in the history of the Church. He made the decision that He needed to go out and meet the people that could not come to the Vatican, to "bring the Vatican to them." He traveled to 129 countries. That's a lot. And when he traveled, people showed up. In fact, the largest ever crowd assembled in human history at one time for one specific event is claimed to be the closing Mass at World Youth Day in the Philippines, where an estimated 5 million plus people were in attendance.
Speaking of World Youth Day, he started that too. In 1984, he invited youth from around the world to gather in Rome for a week of prayer, catechesis, and fellowship. It continues to this day, and the next one is in Rio De Janeiro in 2013 .
Another cornerstone of JP II's pontificate is his Theology of the Body (TOB for short). TOB was the topic of 129 of JPII's Wednesday papal audiences (from 1979-1984). It is essentially his integrated vision of the human person-body, soul, and spirit. It revolved around the philosophical concept of the human person as gift. Man was made to give of himself to another, and human sexuality can only find its true meaning in light of that truth. I would expound upon this but there are many folk much more intelligent than I who have already done so. So if you are interested in more, I will bow to their brilliance and point you here.
JP II was also known for his love for the giants that had gone before him. He canonized many of our beloved saints, including the likes of St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Juan Diego, St. Pio of Pietrelcina (formerly known as Padre Pio), St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, and 478 others. Not kidding...478.
He saw sainthood as something achievable for every human on Earth, and often spoke of each individual's call to the heights of holiness. He expected greatness from his flock. It seems that all that the body of Christ needed was to be encouraged and called to something more, and He did just that. This invitation of his manifested in what he called the New Evangelization. JPII saw the severe lacking of evangelistic efforts in the Church, and so he proclaimed:
"I sense that the moment has come to commit all of the Church’s energies to a new evangelization…No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples.”
FOCUS was born as a response to the New Evangelization, and seeks to fulfill Christ's Great Commission re-promulgated by JP II's commission of the New Evangelization. Full circle.
On April 2, 2005 our beloved Blessed Pope John Paul II spoke his last words "Let me depart to the house of the Father," and soon thereafter entered into his final rest. And alas this humble gentle giant who changed the world through his response to God's call in his life and through his unending charity and care for all of humanity received his heavenly reward: eternal bliss. Let us not forget his example of a life "hidden with Christ" (cf. Col 3:3), and let us never tire in responding to his New Evangelization by bringing the love and truth of Christ to the ends of the earth. Let these words forever ring in our ears:
"Do not be afraid of presenting Christ to someone who does not yet know Him. Christ is the true answer, the most complete answer to all the questions which concern the human person and his destiny. Without Christ, the human person remains an unsolvable riddle. Therefore, have the courage to present Christ!"Blessed Pope John Paul II, pray for us, that we may see the face of Christ!
By Guest Blogger Austin Ashcraft, FOCUS Missionary