Thursday, October 16 marks an incredible moment in the history of the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II celebrates the 25th anniversary of his election to the papacy. What an amazing twenty-five years it has been.
“Do Not Be Afraid”
Pope John Paul II is said to be the most recognized person in the world. He is the most traveled Pope in the 2,000-year history of the Church, having visited 126 countries. He speaks eight languages fluently, but each Christmas and Easter, he greets the world in more than 45 different languages. Born Karol Joseph Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland on May 18, 1920, he was the son of an officer in the Polish army. On October 16, 1978, at the age of fifty-eight, the College of Cardinals elected him to lead the Roman Catholic Church. He was the first non-Italian chosen as Pope in 456 years and the youngest in this century.
Who can ever forget that day when he appeared on the television sets of the world and cried out for the first time, “Do not be afraid”.
Pope John Paul I had died inexplicably, only thirty-three days after his election to the Papacy. His predecessor, Pope Paul VI had had a premonition of his own death, which occurred on August 6, 1978; he had spoken openly about this premonition and mentioned it during his homily for the feast of the Assumption on August 15, 1977. What would the world have been like without these holy men who have guided the Church during these very difficult times?
Profound Personal Encounters
I have had many personal encounters with our Holy Father. These moments I cherish among the happiest moments of my life. Whether it was the time I first shook hands with Pope John Paul II during his first apostolic journey to the United States, or the time that I served his Mass in the Vatican as a young seminarian, or the time that I was able to concelebrate Mass with him in San Juan de los Lagos during one of his trips to Mexico, every moment has been a tremendous source of renewal, joy, and excitement.
I well remember that horrible day of May 13, 1981. Having lived most of my younger years in a small town in Connecticut, I had suffered a lot during the years that followed the Second Vatican Council. Pope Paul VI, through his fidelity to Christ, had been able to hold the Catholic Church together from splitting up into numerous schisms. But Pope John Paul II's vitality, youthfulness, and missionary spirit had brought renewed strength, confidence, and security to a Church embattled by the post-conciliar years.
Then came time of severe trial. On May 13, 1981, I was attending class in the seminary when all of a sudden the phones began ringing uncontrollably. I could hear the footsteps of superiors running through the halls, as the news traveled from office to office. Our professor became very nervous. He left the classroom, only to return crushed by the news that the Pope had been shot. At that dreadful moment, all feared that the Pope was going to die.
The bell rang three times. All normal activities were interrupted and the entire seminary gathered in the chapel to pray the Rosary for the Pope. Our prayers were answered; hope was restored in my soul as good news arrived that the Pope had survived the attempted assassination.
Pope John Paul II has profoundly influenced my preparation for the priesthood and my ministry as a priest. Historically, I can proudly say that I am a Catholic priest of the John Paul II generation. I love our Holy Father very much. I will always defend him. I will always do whatever he asks me to do.
Despite all of the amazing things that Pope John Paul II has accomplished during these astonishing twenty-five years, I cannot help but think about the tremendous burden that he carries upon his shoulders. Sadly, despite his lucid and clear teaching and direction, so many of his children disobey him. So, I would like to make an appeal.
Love the Pope and Love the Church!
Through the Internet, I would like to ask every Catholic bishop, priest, religious, and layperson to love the Pope and to love the Church. How can we love the Pope and love the Church? Let us rediscover the beauty of our Church. Let us honestly put aside divisive issues troubling us and become fully integrated with the Church. The problems that many are causing must weigh heavily upon the shoulders of our Holy Father.
Throughout these twenty-five years, some dissenters have been intellectually honest and have left the Catholic Church all together. Although it saddens me when people leave the Church, I do respect their honesty and integrity. However, what is extremely disturbing and very troublesome is that so many sons and daughters of the Church create terrible scandal from within by their immoral actions or their rebellious dissent against the most fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church. It is time for all of us to make an honest personal assessment of our lives. Our greatest gift to the Pope is our unconditional obedience.
Love the Pope! Love the Church! Be holy! Save souls! Give glory to God! What is so complicated about this? Is this not what it means to be a Roman Catholic? The road from crisis to renewal is the path along which the entire Catholic Church throughout the world must travel to rediscover fidelity and orthodoxy.
I have great hope in those young people who understand what it means to be faithful. Thousands of young people have gathered around the Holy Father. He sees the light of the future in their eyes. We need to be thankful that we live in this time of history. Problems, crisis, and challenges will prevent our ever becoming mediocre.
I will never waver. I am unconditionally with the Pope. If he tells me to celebrate Mass upside down, that is what I will do. No matter how many people may criticize me, I will always stand with the Pope. Where the Pope is, there is the Church.
Thank you Pope John Paul II! You have shown me how to be a priest of Jesus Christ.
Fr. James Farfaglia is the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish and St. Helena of the True Cross Parish in Corpus Christi, Texas.