John Paul II is an old man. His physical limitations are quite obvious. And yet, realizing that the preaching of the Gospel has to be worked out on one’s own flesh, he keeps traveling.
In August he plans to go to Lourdes, France, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
The following month he plans to visit the Marian shrine of Loreto Italy, to beatify politician and engineer Alberto Marvelli (1918-1846)
A possible papal trip in October would put him even further – Guadalajara, Mexico, for the International Eucharistic Congress.
His magic is staggering. His last journey took him to Switzerland. A locked country in central Europe, Switzerland is one of the world’s major financial centers.
The secularist atmosphere of the country coupled by the reticence of the Swiss Catholics in the face of the alleged Roman centralism created an apathetic and rather negative expectation to this visit.
A letter written by 41 Catholic personalities and made public prior to the Pope’s visit even called for John Paul II resignation.
On Saturday June 5, the day of the Pope’s arrival, the headline of the leading local paper ‘Le Temps’ was “John Paul II in Switzerland – an Air of Indifference’.
But the Pope came. And his charm worked a metamorphosis.
So much so that just two days later, the same newspaper had to change its whole tone and started its lead article with the headline, ‘Magic has worked again. Between the Pope and the Young People there is a Lasting Love, Undoubtedly Encouraged by the Elixir of Faith’.
A spokesperson for the country’s Episcopal conference described the Pope’s visit as an ‘enormous success, qualitative and quantitative.’
For the meeting with the youth on Saturday they were expecting a maximum of 3000 people. 14,000 youth came! For the departing Eucharist at Allmend field, the most optimistic forecast was 40,000. Well, they were wrong again. More than 70,000 people attended the Mass!
The Pope was at his very best. Speaking at the Sports Arena with the youth, he spoke about his youth.
“Like you, I also was once 20 years old. I loved sports, skiing, reciting poetry. I studied and worked. I had hopes and worries. In those now distant years, at a time when the land of my birth was wounded by war and then by a totalitarian regime, I searched for meaning in my life. I found it in the following of the Lord Jesus.”
His message was electrifying. He proposed a daring initiative based on three keywords: “Arise! Listen! Act now!”
“Arise!” he started with vigor. “Christianity is a person, a presence, a face: Jesus, who gives meaning and fullness to man’s life.
“Do not be afraid to encounter Jesus. Seek Him…”
“Listen!” he continued. “Do not tire of training yourselves in the difficult discipline of listening.
“Listen to the voice of the Lord who speaks to you through the events of your daily lives, through the joys and sufferings that accompany you, the persons who are next to you, the voice of conscience thirsty for truth, happiness, goodness and beauty.
“And I say to you: Do not be afraid! God does not let himself be outdone in generosity! After almost 60 years of priesthood, I am happy to give here, before all of you, my testimony: It is beautiful to be able to give one’s all for cause of the Kingdom of God!
“There is still a third invitation,” he concluded. “Start on the way!”
“Do not be content to discuss; do not wait for occasions to do good that perhaps will never occur. The time has arrived for action!”
What is amazing when one listens to the Pope speaking is how he always emphasizes the beauty and the power of the love of God so inherent in the Gospel. His words are always good news to the sinner and to the broken. “Despite the weight of our sins,” he repeated in Switzerland, “God has loved us and has redeemed us in the blood of Christ. His grace has healed us in our innermost being.”
Ignace Jan Paderewski was one of the most renowned pianists and composers in the world. His US debut at Carnegie Hall was followed by a 117-concert North American tour, during which his pianism and dashingly romantic image brought him a wild popularity.
It is said that one day he accepted an invitation to attend the recital of a small girl. However when the girl saw the famous pianist in the audience, she got stage fright, forgot her piece and broke down in tears.
At the close of the concert, Paderewski said nothing to her but went up and tenderly kissed her on her forehead and left.
This is what Jesus Christ is all about.
If she had not made that mistake and failed, she would never have received a kiss of love understanding from the master pianist.
Likewise, it is when we slip and fall into sin and are a complete letdown, that the mercy of God in Christ is experienced in terms of forgiveness.
Perhaps it is because the Pope is so near to the heart and mind of Jesus Christ and His message that his magnetism is so powerful.
Indeed, the world has many religions, but it has only one gospel.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.