After Father's death
Fr Ireneusz Skubis
We were privileged to experience a great time. We participated in the funeral of the millennium - the funeral of the Polish Pope John Paul II. About one billion people watched the funeral on television. That has never happened before. Together with some representatives of the Weekly 'Niedziela' I was in St Peter's on 8 April. 'Niedziela' was closely connected with the Holy Father, that's why we could not miss his funeral. On Thursday evening, 7 April, I was at the Mass in St Peter's Basilica, which was presided by Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz from Moscow. It was a moving experience. The Archbishop made the priests realise that the Holy Father was very close to the Eastern Church and wanted to visit the Moscow Church very much. He did not succeed. 'Today, Archbishop Kondrusiewicz said, 'he is sure to visit Moscow and all these corners of the Moscow Church that were closed for him'. The words of the Archbishop were full of love, closeness and cordial tears. I think that no Western bishop could have spoken more cordially and significantly than the Archbishop of Moscow did. Everyone needed to hear this prayer and these words. And there were about 700 priests of various races and nationalities who did not only represent Europe but also Asia, Africa, Latin America and North America - the entire world. It was a real joy that priests of the world stood by their Pope. During all those days of mourning thousands of priests from all over the world concelebrated Masses and they prayed for the Shepherd with great love and dedication. It is worth saying that beside the bishops who naturally stood by the catafalque of the late Pope there were priests who are the greatest safeguard that the evangelical teaching of John Paul II will be spread.
Sometimes we appropriated John Paul II as Polish Pope. The funeral of the Holy Father proved, so to speak, that he was the universal Shepherd, the Father of Christianity. This presence of clergy of all races and nationalities in Rome is the best testimony that priests of the world loved the Holy Father. They came to the funeral to testify to their love. John Paul II was on every continent and he was interested in the fate of all nations and peoples. It was him that spoke on behalf of the afflicted, as if he were an ombudsman of liberty and human rights.
That's why the experiences of millions all over the world, the experiences we witnessed and shared, testify that people are thankful to him and they simply wanted to say, 'Thank you'. The youth showed this gratitude in the most magnificent way. It was also seen during the funeral Mass when the square resounded with rapturous applause and numerous national flags fluttered. It was something extraordinary. In Poland we are not used to applause in funerals but this applause in St Peter's square had its own significance. It was amazing, this applause for the Departed, this unique enthusiasm. And it seemed to us that the Holy Father accepted the applause and rejoiced at these sincere and pure emotions. But the most moving moment was when the coffin with the Holy Father's body was placed in front of the people, in the doors of the Basilica. It seemed that the Holy Father blessed us with his hands as he had used to. John Paul II was in the coffin but as if he were alive, as if he were present... And those young people who were under his charm, thousands of youth who were cheering him. Such a funeral the Pope had. This great dynamism made us rejoice - it was the joy of the life on the other side of time.
Today, after a lapse of days, when we realise more and more that John Paul II is not among the living, we reflect on his meditations, his books, documents as well as his poetry, philosophical and theological thoughts. The Holy Father left a great memento. He left his example how to love God and men. He left an example of great goodness, cordiality for every human being and an example of great respect. We can still learn a lot from the Holy Father. The old and the young, priests and bishops can learn from him; and the great, the influential people, politicians and scientists can listen to the teachings of the Pope. He left an enormous legacy, which guarantees his presence with us and that he would help us live and would give us his instructions. Therefore, after his death let us try to do what we did not manage to do when he was alive because the work for the Church this great Pope carried out is of unique value. And we, Poles, should know that his teaching and example are extraordinary values for the Fatherland that bore John Paul II.