A couple of weeks ago, Pope Francis presided over a mass in this St Peter’s Basilica in honour of the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council on 11 October 1962. Among the 2,500 bishops in the entrance procession was the young auxiliary bishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla. He was 42 years old and living his episcopal ministry in a country where Catholics were under the oppression of the communist power. His participation in the Second Vatican Council was a breath of fresh air that led him to meditate on the Church of Rome born of the blood of martyrs and, through her, on the struggle of faith and the eternal youth of the Church. Between work sessions, he wrote a few poems, including this one, entitled “Synod”, which evokes the Council assembly:
“They rise again and again, exhaustion does not drive them to the grave;
even the very old ones drag themselves on their knees,
ready to face the stadium,
the young look on and the faded eyes see the whole:
this world that must be born
from their bodies and souls, from the life they give,
of the death they desire.”
Behind these faces and bodies of pastors of different ages and states of health, the poet Pope discerns the same love of Christ, the same love that made Peter say in today’s Gospel: “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.” And the young bishop hears Jesus’ answer to each of them: “Be the shepherd of my sheep”. To the very end.
On Sunday 22 October 1978, Karol Wojtylà gave the solemn homily at the beginning of his pontificate. He was still young for a pope, not yet 60. He chose the name John Paul II to follow in the footsteps of his short-lived predecessor, Blessed John Paul I, in the legacy of the two popes of the Council, John XXIII and Paul VI, who are now canonised like him. His homily is a beautiful meditation on the departure of the Apostle Peter for Rome, in the heart of the empire, where Christ had called him to give his life so that he would remain there during Nero’s persecution. Saint John Paul II escaped death on 13 May 1981, but he gave his life to the end in the face of illness. His fidelity until death marked the meaning of all the Yes he gave to the Lord, always taking Mary as his model, in the school of Saint Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort. I return to this first homily of 22 October 1978, because it can help us to live fully the present of our Church, entrusting ourselves to the intercession of Saint John Paul II. The new Pope meditates on the people of priests that Christ, our High Priest, gave birth to:
“He who was born of the Virgin Mary, the carpenter’s Son,” as it was believed, “the Son of the living God,” as Peter confessed, “came to make us all ‘a kingdom of priests.
Living, as Peter confessed, came to make of us all “a kingdom of priests”.
The Second Vatican Council reminded us of the mystery of this power and the fact that Christ’s mission
– Priest, Prophet-Master, King – continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God is a sharer of this threefold mission. ”
Today, the synodal journey convoked by Pope Francis continues the impetus of Vatican II, recalled by John Paul II at the beginning of his pontificate, and amplified later in his insistence on the holy vocation of Christ’s faithful and their mission in evangelization. The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family was born of this conciliar impulse. The rightness of the intuition of our holy pope founder is shown in the international character of our assembly this morning. We pray for the families of our local Churches, especially those who are most afflicted and who thus participate, sometimes unknowingly, in the mystery of the Passion of Christ. We ask for the courage to practice the theology of marriage and the family, even in our most advanced research, in a spirit of pastoral conversion that responds to the needs of the men and women of this time, in the diversity of their cultures and contexts.
I will conclude by returning to the beautiful text of the first reading in the book of Isaiah, chapter 54: “How lovely are the footsteps of the messenger on the mountains, the one who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, and comes to say to Zion, ‘He reigns, your God’! Is there any verse, for the young people of the John Paul II generation to which I belong, that more evokes the pilgrim Pope, the initiator of World Youth Days, the Pope who learned the language of the countries he was going to visit in order to announce peace and good news in a language that could touch their hearts? In the same way, the verse from the Psalm: “Proclaim the wonders of God to all peoples” evokes the mission of our John Paul II Institute, which is established in various countries of the world: to make the beauty of human love resound in all languages and cultures, through which a man and a woman, by choosing to found a family, respond to God’s love and are prepared to give it a concrete expression through their daily fidelity.
This is a great mystery.