This morning, Pope Benedict XVI beatified the late Pope John Paul II. Beatification means that a person’s life has displayed certain qualities that are worthy of imitation by other Christians. It also means that the “Blessed” person’s memory is celebrated liturgically in his or her own diocese.
Those of use who lived through the entire papacy of Blessed Pope John Paul II will remember the vigour of a young pontiff who stormed with the world with his charisma, his presence among and solidarity with people are over the planet and his unceasing and challenging advocacy for the poor. I remember his visit to Montréal and his passionate call to North American society to be attentive to the issues of the southern hemisphere.
He is also remembered as a powerful advocate on interfaith dialogue (especially with Jews and Muslims) and was heavily criticised by what might be described as the “Catholic Taliban” for inviting world faith leaders to Assisi. He has also been criticised by some for his promotion of the role of women in society. To many in North America, that would sound rather puzzling, but in fact, by global standards Pope John Paul moved the Church forward in its appreciation of and respect for women.
We cannot speak of the Pope without remembering the horrible attempt on his life and even more important his very public forgiveness of the man who tried to kill him. This great respect for the human person was manifested in his fight against both abortion and capital punishment and the defense of all human life from conception to natural death.
Many of us cherish the memory of John Paul as the Pope of the Youth. He made World Youth Day an ecclesial event of unparalleled significance and witnessed to young people by his constant and bold declaration: Do not be afraid! One of my favourite memories of WYD 2002 in Toronto is when after being drenched by the rain, 800,000 of us began with mass with JP2 and he looked up at us at the point when he was supposed to do the “Sprinkling Rite” and laughing said that the Lord had already taken care of that and skipped the rite. It spoke to the great sense of humour and ability to connect with the moment.
In the end all of who he was and what he believed in was made manifest before our eyes in his broken, frail body which nonetheless remained faithful, courageous and inspiring.