He gave us hope
Fr Ireneusz Skubis
This week we have celebrated the 28th anniversary of the election of the Holy Father John Paul II. Although the celebrations will finish soon my deep thoughts return to the memorable day of 22 October 1978, i.e. the solemn inauguration of this great, especially for us Polish people, pontificate, the inauguration that I could witness in St Peter's Square.
Numerous Poles, including a big group from the Archdiocese of Krakow, took part in the ceremony. We were waiting for the Holy Father with beating heart. And then he, still young, 58-old new Pope John Paul II, appeared. He looked at the gathered people and greeted every one, especially the Polish people and his Church from Krakow. There was no end to shouts of joy. That was not only a magnificent day for the Church in Poland. That was some kind of new situation; he was the first non-Italian Pope for several centuries. Some unknown cardinal became Pope; he came from 'a distant country' as he described himself in his first papal greeting, having in mind the development gap between Poland, which was behind the so-called Iron Curtain, and the Western European countries.
Nobody knew what his pontificate would look like. Today we are looking at John Paul II as a candidate for sainthood, as a white pilgrim who visited almost all countries, all corners of the world; we are looking at the pope who was miraculously saved in the barbarian assassination attempt; we are looking at him as the author of numerous important documents, which he left; we are looking at the priest who faithfully and consistently continued the teaching of the Vatican Council. But first of all, we are looking at a holy man whose entire life was a witness to true love of God and neighbour.
John Paul II is said to be the greatest missionary in the world. In fact, during his pontificate there were about 300 million new Catholics; priestly and religious vocations grew extremely dynamically. The Holy Father provided a strong impetus for many missionary works of the Church, showing new ways of evangelisation. It seemed that that the pope did not know what effort meant, he overcame all hardships, illnesses and sufferings. He even evangelised through his death and his funeral was a day of love for the whole world.
We, Poles, observed our fellow countryman carefully, and now we are watching even more attentively. We are looking at his love for the Homeland, which did not disturb him to love other countries and the whole world. And we are still discovering how close he was to all those things that reached him from his homeland, and how he loved people and at the same time listed high requirements to them.
Although some time passed from the death of John Paul II we are still cherishing vivid memories of his holy life. These memories are often very personal for many of us. However, the generation that lived in the times of John Paul II have mainly national memories, which are expressed, among other things, in the celebration of the Papal Day. John Paul II speaks clearly to each of us: 'Sursum corda'. He also suggested these words as bishop's motto to his secretary, the present Metropolitan of Krakow Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. He advised people to raise their eyes to Heaven and build hope. In fact, this hope is included in our Catholic faith, in our Church, in our pastoral ministry, i.e. moral renewal, and in what Poles need most - revival of conscience.
Therefore, when we celebrate the anniversary of the election John Paul II as the successor of St Peter, when we recollect the magnificent inauguration of his pontificate we should deeply think of the hope that is the message of that Pope. John Paul II will always tell Poles 'Sursum corda'. May these words be heard in today's, somewhat different, Homeland, which still needs hope.