The man who inspired a generation
One of the most significant events in 2014 was the first celebration of Pope Saint John Paul II’s first feast day on October 22. For over 26 years, through his teaching, actions and personal witness, John Paul II gave the Church a pontificate that has been, in the words of papal biographer George Weigel, “the most consequential since the Protestant reformation of the sixteenth century.”
Heare are my top five reasons why Pope Saint John Paul II’s first feast day occasioned a huge outpouring of love and remembrance for a pope that the throngs at his funeral spontaneously declared "great."
5. Prolific saint-maker. Saint John Paul II beatified over 1,300 holy men and women and canonized close to 500 saints. Why is this important? Saints, according to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, are “the greatest apologetic for our faith.” We see in them “a force of good which resists the millennia; there truly is the light of light.”
In trying to live out Lumen Gentium’s call to “universal holiness”—meaning that everyone (not just priests and religious) has a vocation to become holy, imitating Christ’s merciful, sacrificial love for others—we can draw inspiration and hope from the lives of ordinary people who became saints. Mind you, it can be difficult to relate to saints who lived centuries ago in times and places very different from our own. Really, how many of us could survive as a desert monk? But the lives of 20th century saints canonized by John Paul II can help point the way as we stumble along our own path toward holiness.
For every 20th century priest or religious canonized by John Paul II—such as Maximilian Kolbe, Faustina Kowalska, Teresa of Jesus of the Andes, Padre Pio and Josemaria Escrivá—we can also find, for example, Katharine Drexel (a former heiress), Josephine Bakhita (a former slave) and Edith Stein (a philosopher and teacher into her early 40s when she entered the Carmelites), and physician, wife and mother Gianna Beretta Molla, who was one of more than 250 lay women and men canonized by John Paul II.
4. Globe-trotting pastor. Pope Francis speaks of going to the peripheries to seek out the lost and forsaken. Pope Saint John Paul II set an outstanding example in this regard, of course, visiting an astounding 129 countries. Everywhere he traveled, John Paul brought with him an infectious optimism about human life and man’s capacity for goodness (along with a sober assessment of the evils of our day). He showed us what we can become by keeping God at the center of our lives, and proved that real men love their Mother. In Poland, he showed the Soviet Union that the power of the Holy Spirit, alive in the hearts of his countrymen, could defeat one of the largest military forces in the world. He taught us how to show mercy, to sanctity our suffering and always to persevere, trusting in the love of the Holy Trinity.
3. Founder of World Youth Day (WYD). Since 1985 tens of millions of young people, meeting every two to three years in different countries of the world (and in Rome in between), have gathered to pray, to learn and to be inspired by John Paul II, who presided over nine international WYDs, before Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis began presiding over these world-shaking events.
In 2002 in Toronto, the last international WYD over which John Paul II presided, he told the crowd of nearly one million present for a vigil: