Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
Pope John Paul’s impact felt in Diocese of Spokane
by Jami LeBrun, Inland Register staff
(From the April 7, 2005 edition of the Inland Register)
Bishop Skylstad met with Pope John Paul II during the bishop’s ad limina visit last June. (IR file photo by Fotographia Felici)
The pontificate of Pope John Paul II bore many faces. He will be remembered for his unwavering pro-life stance, his compassion for the poor and suffering, his great philosophical contributions to the Church, his zeal for the youth, his heroic labors for human dignity, and his role in the fall of communism. He bore the weight of the papacy during a time of traumatic and challenging change throughout the world.
From the very beginning of his pontificate, John Paul II was committed to his role as universal pastor. The pontiff traveled the world many times over, using his fluid grasp of eight different languages to communicate with people from every continent.
“He really reached out to people everywhere, not just Catholics,” said Msgr. Robert Pearson, Vicar for Clergy for the Spokane Diocese. “He wanted to touch Catholics and bolster them in their faith, but he wanted to reach others, as well. He looked beyond the internal Church to people everywhere. He was a symbol of what is good and right. He strived to strengthen the world and make it a better place.”
His papacy has been marked by his availability and accessibility. Many people in the Spokane Diocese have had opportunities to be in his presence. Donna Hanson, Bishop’s Secretary for Social Ministries and Diocesan Director of Catholic Charities, addressed him on Sept. 18, 1987. She spoke on that occasion as the chairperson of the National Advisory Council to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. She spoke about the role of the laity in the Church.
“That whole encounter was like having a cup of coffee with a friend,” said Hanson. “He was not at all intimidating. The whole time I was talking, I felt like he was listening and responding.”
Father Steve Dublinski, Vicar General for the Diocese, was a seminarian studying in Rome when the Holy Father came to visit a children’s hospital there, where Father Dublinski volunteered in the critical care wing.
“After the prayer service was over, he came around and greeted everyone in the room. He had so much warmth as a person and as a pastor, and humor, too,” said Father Dublinski.
“Nobody spoke like the pope spoke,” said James Kerian, a Gonzaga University senior. “When you heard his voice, you could tell that he loved you.”
John Paul II worked tirelessly for human dignity. He believed in the dignity of each human person – male and female – from the moment of conception until natural death and was persistently outspoken about the Church’s view on the matter.
“I think he will really be remembered for his dedication to pro-life causes,” said Msgr. Frank Bach, a retired Spokane Diocese priest. “Not just for his teaching to Catholics, but for his challenge to the secular world – he tried to make them aware that their attitude was simply too cavalier about life.”
The pope also played a large role in the reunification of East and West Germany and the fall of communism.
“I think his primary legacy was the unbelievable witness he had to the reunification of Eastern and Western Germany,” said Msgr. John Steiner, co-Vicar General for the diocese and Pastor of St. Mary Parish in the Spokane Valley.
That reunification “came suddenly and relatively peacefully,” said Msgr. Bach.
Pope John Paul II was beloved by the youth of the world. He challenged them to grow in their faith and to become instruments of the new evangelization, to pass on the tradition of the Catholic Church to generations to come. At World Youth Days in Denver, Toronto, Rome and many others, millions of youth flocked to see him, to hear him and to pray with him – to revitalize their faith in, and love for, the greater Church in the company of millions of other Catholic youth.
“World Youth Day was the catalyst I needed to begin thinking about my vocation and taking my faith seriously,” said Sean Harrell, a seminarian for the Spokane Diocese. “Through the Holy Father’s witness and by being able to pray with him and all those other Catholics, I began to hear God calling. Without World Youth Day, I don’t think I would have the faith I do, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to discover my vocation to the priesthood.”
“John Paul II was always an advocate for the poor and the youth,” said Father Dublinski. “He was a pastoral person and always remembered that he was a priest. He had concern for those whose voices are sometimes left out.”
The Holy Father had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother, and in 2002 added the five Luminous Mysteries to the rosary.
Donna Hanson walked arm-in-arm with Pope John Paul in San Francisco in September 1987. (IR file photo)
“His love for Our Lady was inspirational,” said Hanson, who because of the pope is now “praying the rosary on a regular basis.”
Pope John Paul II’s legacy includes a dedication to clearly, consistently and unapologetically proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the sacred teachings of the Church.
“He was a real inspiration to many people who needed a leader,” said Msgr. Bach. “While the ‘mainline’ religions have struggled with what their beliefs really are, he was always very consistent with what the Church teaches. The principles of the Church were always there.”
Some of his teaching, though, was revolutionary – particularly his teachings on ecumenism and human sexuality.
“His teaching on human sexuality was mystical and wonderful and revolutionary,” said Msgr. Steiner. “It demonstrated a deep appreciation for the interpersonality of human sexuality. It was one of the great blessings of his pontificate – providing revolutionary new ways of thinking.”
“He was a very forward thinker,” said Father Dublinski, “especially in the area of ecumenism. He invited the Church and all Christians to engage the disunity. That’s a legacy that will reach into the future.”
Pope John Paul II worked tirelessly for the poor and suffering. And he always understood the incredible power suffering has to unite an individual with Christ. Early in his pontificate, he wrote an encyclical on the meaning of suffering. During the later years of his papacy, the Holy Father was able to live out his teaching as his health continuously declined due to the onset of Parkinson’s disease. He embraced the suffering he endured, seeing it as his own personal cross, uniting him to Christ and the Church.
“I think his suffering was his real, final gift to the people – not just the Catholics, but all the world,” said Msgr. Bach. “It demonstrated the sanctifying grace the Church has always believed comes from suffering.”
“He lived through World War II and experienced and saw the incredible suffering and the tragedy of humanity,” said Father Dublinski. “It was deep in his spirituality. He wrote an encyclical on it, and then he lived it out. He was a man who did what he said.”
In an increasingly secular world – a world that saw the rise and fall of communism, a world shrunk in just a few decades with the onset of technical advances in communications – Pope John Paul II was a consistent and holy force. His dedication to the Church and to the salvation of the world was unwaveringly visible, even through the mask of pain he wore in his final years.
His pontificate bore many faces, but first and foremost among them was the face of holiness.