Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"Keep Pope John Paul II in prayer"
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the March 17, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
Pope John Paul II is the third-longest-reigning pope in history – 26 years. Twenty-six years ago, I happened to be in Rome for a continuing education program for bishops. While I was there, Pope John Paul I was formally installed. The celebration in St. Peter’s Square was magnificent. That was my first experience of a large papal ceremony, and as you can imagine, it was impressive! But Pope John Paul I was pope for only 33 days. As it turned out, I left Rome the day after he died. Despite his relatively brief pontificate, he seemed to electrify the world with his ready smile and very human touch. The bishops of our region here in the Northwest were one of only two groups of bishops who had the opportunity to visit with him. I treasure the photo of my meeting with him.
Another papal election came up with a great surprise. The first non-Italian pope in over 400 years was elected. An even greater surprise: The new pope was from Poland. And now, after 26 years, he will certainly go down in history as one of the great holy fathers.
As I learned about this new pope, John Paul II, there were several aspects about his person that stood out. He lived through World War II, and barely escaped with his life during the Nazi occupation. He lived under communism in Poland, and so had the sad experience of knowing yet another form of government oppression. In time, the communist system in Eastern Europe and Russia came tumbling down like a house of cards with virtually no violence. Many attribute that fall in great measure to Pope John Paul II.
The newly elected Holy Father had an uncanny sense of relating to people, and not just to Catholics. He quickly became known for his pastoral presence all over the world. He has made over 100 pastoral visits around the world, the most-traveled pope in history. When I was in Morocco about 10 years ago on a visit for Catholic Relief Services, Muslims on the CRS staff told me with great pride that the pope had accepted an invitation from King Hassan II to stop in Morocco for four hours while en route back to Rome. During the course of his international visits, he would arrive in a new country, deplane, and kiss the ground, a powerful, symbolic gesture of reverence for nations and cultures. His facility with languages is legendary and most remarkable.
He also quickly became know as a prolific writer. Some of his encyclicals are very challenging and will certainly become historic. For example, his encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint (“That They May Be One”), is prophetic and radical in its content. There are constant, consistent themes in his teaching; among them, the dignity of the person, and his strong commitment to justice and care for the poor and vulnerable.
One new observance in the Church has been World Youth Day. These events have helped the pope connect with young people from around the globe, and he does so to an admirable degree. World Youth Day was held in Toronto a few years ago. The press was quite negative, prior to the event. After all, why would an aging pope travel all that way to visit with young people? But the event was a great success. Several newspaper stories expressed admiration for the visit and for its meaning for Canada and the youth of the world. It’s a consistent observation that Pope John Paul has been especially enlivened, even invigorated, by his contact with young people during his international travels.
But now, his health has become fragile. In recent weeks he has been hospitalized. He has received a tracheotomy to assist his breathing. He still tries to communicate with the Church and the world with a wave and blessing through a window in the hospital. His body is increasingly limited, but it is obvious to even the most casual observer that his spirit is very much alive, speaking to us of courage, humility, and a deep sense of spirituality. He is unashamed of sharing his aging. Perhaps, as he approaches his own death, he sees yet another great opportunity for teaching.
Whether his death is near at hand or at some more distant point, our global Catholic community journeys with him in prayer and in love. We can be very grateful to a holy man, a man who dedicated the last 26 years of his remarkable life to service of the Church universal; a man of seemingly limitless energy, of such total dedication. As the Holy Father, his responsibilities have been demanding and tremendously complex. In a very sacrificial way, he has given the world great witness as a wonderful servant of the Church.
Whenever the transition to a new pope will come, our Church – indeed, the entire world – will be able to see the events live in our living rooms. As always, we trust and believe in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who in a remarkable way given us very gifted and holy popes in the 20th century. Jesus’ promise, “and know that I will be with you until the end of the world,” continues to be fulfilled.
In the meantime, we are present in spirit and prayer for a man who has been a great servant of the Church and a lover of the people of the world.
May God grant you much peace!
March 18 will be day of penance, prayer at Cathedral
Bishop Skylstad will spend Friday, March 18, as a day of penance and prayer for the victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse. He will be at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes, 1115 W. Riverside Ave., Spokane, beginning at 8 a.m.
The observance will include Mass at noon, and Stations of the Cross at 5 p.m.
He invites everyone to join him for all or part of this day of prayer, either at the Cathedral itself, or spiritually, from home, work, or parish.
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