Together with the rest of the Church, we in Holy Cross celebrated the wonderful news on January 14 that Pope John Paul II would be beatified by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, on the May 1, 2011 – Divine Mercy Sunday. (Coincidentally, it is also the day that Rev. Mr. Paul Ybarra, C.S.C., and Rev. Mr. John Britto, C.S.C., will preside at their first Masses, having just been ordained the day prior.) To help us prepare for that grace-filled occasion, we asked the Holy Cross priest who probably knew JPII the best, Fr. Hugh Clearly, C.S.C., our former Superior General, to share with us some reflections on this truly great and holy man. And as we just started accepting comments two days ago, please feel free to add your own reflections at the end.
On January 14, 2011, a palpable enthusiasm and overwhelming joy spread throughout the Church upon hearing the anticipated news that Pope Benedict XVI had given his formal recognition and acceptance to an authentic miracle attributed to Pope John Paul II who will be beatified on May 1, 2011. On that date Rome will once again be inundated with pilgrims from all over the world who have been inspired by this great pope who has had an enormous impact on our times. I had the privilege of being present in Saint Peter’s Square for John Paul II’s funeral Mass of the Resurrection. I was present again when the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI made his first appearance on the central balcony overlooking the massive gathering of the faithful in the Piazza waiting to receive his first Papal blessing. Already the crowds were beginning to acclaim John Paul II a saint with their loud chants and banners ringing out: “Santo Subito!”
Pope John Paul II was a larger-than-life kind of figure. His charisma seemed unmatched. In one of Fr. Anthony de Mello’s reflections, he expressed the astonishing sensation of a singer’s magnificent voice filling the entire space of a concert hall. It was in that very same way that – whenever Pope John Paul II entered Saint Peter’s Basilica, whether in the strength of his early papacy or in the physical frailty of his later years when he could no longer walk on his own – he filled the entire space of the Basilica with his presence. His appearance was always electrifying, always captivating.
Pope John Paul II was an activist. He traveled the ends of the earth exhorting us never fear in proclaiming the Good News of God’s all-inclusive love. He himself was fearless, bringing the Gospel to bear on every issue of the day, disturbing the status quo and overturning conventional wisdom. His outreach to young people was legendary; they responded in kind, with an overwhelming love.
In the midst of all his engagements, the Holy Father was rooted in prayer. I have no doubt whatsoever that his was a mystical presence in every setting. Absorbed in a flurry of action he was at the same time absorbed in the quiet of God’s heart. I recall a poignant moment one Palm Sunday which left an indelible image within me. I had accompanied Archbishop Charles Schelck to the Liturgy. We were sitting just a short distance, close at hand, to the Holy Father. At one point a young woman, involved in the transfer of the World Youth Day Cross, left her position without warning and ran toward the Holy Father. His guards immediately surrounded her but the Pope waved them away. She quickly knelt before him, clasping him in a tearful embrace, seemingly pouring out her soul to him. The few minutes seemed interminable and the Pope’s assistants tried to distance her but the Holy Father persisted in hearing her need. It was a scene which captured the mystical intimacy of John Paul with each and every member of the thousands upon thousands who filled St. Peter’s Square that Sunday morning.
During the 2004 General Chapter of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Pope John Paul II received the delegates at the end of a General Audience and exhorted us to live faithfully the theme of the Chapter: “Crossing Borders of Every Sort.” Through his inspiration we continue to go to the ends of the earth proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. We rejoice in his beatification, and we pray that with our own founder, Blessed Basile Moreau, and with St. André Bessette, we will proclaim beyond every border – and live without fear – the triumph of God’s love.