Homily by Fr. Joseph Nguyễn Đức Hòa, OP
to the Philippine Community at the Archdiocese Pastoral Center
on the 3rd Sunday of Easter, April 10, 2005
Pope John Paul II died and was buried last week. He was a good shepherd as Christ was the good shepherd. He dedicated his whole life to loving and taking care of his flock. He never tired of going from country to country to meet with his sheep, to console them, to encourage them or simply to know them “ Go into the deep sea and trust in God. Don’t be afraid.” Pope John Paul II was the most widely traveled pontiff in Vatican history, certainly not for pleasure or tourism purpose, but for pastoral visitation. “Now millions have traveled from all over the world to honor his life and legacy. He came to their countries to visit them. Now they come to Rome to bid him farewell.”
Many of the pilgrims in St Peter Square were from Poland and from other parts of the world who came to say goodbye to the man they regard as a father figure and as a devoted shepherd. The pope is given credit for helping to bring down the Iron Curtain. But he is also recognized as having built bridges to other religions. Among the religious dignitaries attending the funeral were Jews, Muslims, Orthodox Christians and Buddhists : this fact alone proves how much they love and respect him as a man of dialogue, a man of reconciliation.
Tolerant, kind and forgiving, yet Pope John Paul II was a fearless fighter for the Faith. He sharply condemned violations of any sort against human life, family life and human dignity, particularly he condemned cloning, the use of contraceptives, abortion, divorce, homosexual marriage, trial marriage. He strongly denounced the use of force and war to settle international disputes.
Speaking of the late pope, cardinal Lustiger said :” We can’t understand anything about Pope John Paul II unless we know that each day he prayed no less than three hours. And all the important decisions he made were not made in his office, but in the chapel.” “He has changed the course of history”, wrote L’Express, a French magazine, “ and his light will continue to illumine the heart of humanity.”
Pope John Paul II died at 2:37 am April 3, 2005 (Vietnam time) and was buried at 3:15 pm yesterday April 8, 2005. His burial was attended by four kings, five queens, 14 leaders of other religions, more than two hundred world leaders and over four million people. His death is a great loss to the Catholic Church, to the world and to everyone, as a Mexican woman said in tears :”I feel as if lost my own father!” An Italian family who, driving 7 hours, waiting in line for 5 more hours to be able to see the pope’s body in a few seconds, said : ”We are satisfied and we can go home now!” May I take this occasion to say a few words about the life of the late pope.
Pope John Paul II was born Karol Josef Wojtyla on May 18, 1920 at Wadovice, near Krakow, Poland. His childhood was not a happy one. His mother died when he was only 9 years old; three years later his only brother, a doctor, also died. At 21, the father died, too. During the Nazi occupation of Poland Wojtyla had to work as a miner. Meanwhile he continued to study at an underground seminary and in 1946 he was ordained clandestinely. He was then sent to Rome to take up his doctorate in Theology. In 1948 he returned to Poland to teach at Liblin Catholic University in Krakow. He became adjutant bishop of Krakow Diocese in 1958, and in 1964 archbishop of the same Diocese. In 1967 Pope Paul VI appointed him cardinal. And finally on October 16, 1978 he became the 264th pope, to succeed St. Peter. He was the first Polish pope in history and the first non-Italian pope in almost 600 years.
With 26 years in the papacy, Pope John Paul II became the pope to rule the Church the third longest in history : He was the most widely traveled pope, visited 129 countries and 850 cities and delivered more than 2400 speeches. He canonized 482 saints, including 117 Vietnamese martyrs; beatified 1,338 blessed. Pope John Paul II was also a pope who received the most attempts on his life : 23 attempts in all. In 1981 Ali Aga, a Turkish assassin fatally shot him at St Peter Square : the pope miraculously escaped death but he was hospitalized for two months. On Christmas eve 1983 pope John Paul went to prison to visit and to show forgiveness to his assassin, who said “Only The blessed Virgin of Fatima could save the pope, because I never missed killing anyone once I pulled the trigger. In the case of pope John Paul II, he had got three bullets in a row!”
In 26 years as the head of the Church, Pope John Paul II untiringly promoted the civilization of life and of love, and strongly condemned the so-called civilization of hatred and death and whatever against human life and human dignity. He often said :”Don’t be afraid. Open your hearts to Jesus Christ. Open all national borders, open all economic and political systems, open all cultural domains, open all civilizations and growths to Jesus Christ.” (October 22, 1978). Learning the news of his death, many leaders of the world expressed condolences and their highest respect and appreciation to the late pope. Many called him the greatest pope in history, the man of the third millennium; still many others have begun to call him John Paul The Great.” An American in New York, recalling the first time he met the Pope: “Now I know what Christ was like!”
As a summary of the life and legacy of Pope John Paul II, may I quote here the remark of Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union, when he asked Pope John Paul II what political system he belonged to - capitalism or communism - the pope said : ” I don’t serve any political parties. I only serve God.” No wonder that millions of people attending the Pope’s funeral at St. Peter’s Square shouted in applause “Santo subito”, calling for Pope John Paul II to be soon canonized.