In our dedication to evangelize young Catholics, we continue Blessed John Paul II's legacy
by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
Carl A. Anderson
One of the most extraordinary moments in Blessed John Paul II's long pontificate occurred during the last hours of his life as thousands of young Catholics gathered to pray in St. Peter's Square. When told of their presence, the pope reportedly said, "I have looked for you. Now you have come to me, and I thank you."
Pope Benedict XVI, in his homily during the inaugural Mass of his papacy in 2005, reflected on the impact his predecessor had on young people.
"During those sad days of the pope's illness and death," he said, "it became wonderfully evident to us that the Church is alive. And the Church is young. She holds within herself the future of the world and therefore shows each of us the way towards the future."
So remarkable was John Paul II's outreach to young adults that an entire generation of Catholics — the John Paul II Generation — has been named after him. As a priest, professor and bishop, Karol Wojtyła "looked for" this generation in his university teaching and his pastoral ministry to young married couples and families in Poland. As pope, he broadened this outreach in unimaginable ways.
John Paul II revolutionized youth ministry by means of the nine international World Youth Days that he celebrated — including those in the United States, Canada and the Philippines. These encounters between the pope and young people have resulted in countless vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, as well as to marriage and family.
The pope understood well that the global Church is a young church. In fact, it is likely that a majority of Catholics in the world today are under 30 and eligible to attend World Youth Day as official pilgrims. John Paul II also knew that the Church must effectively evangelize the next generation of Catholics and that this cannot be done simply by imitating the latest "youth culture" fad. Instead, World Youth Day must be an occasion for authentic Catholic witness and communion.
This is why the Knights of Columbus has joined with the Sisters of Life and other Catholic organizations to sponsor the Love and Life Centre for English-speaking pilgrims at this year's World Youth Day in Madrid. We hope this work will be an historic expression of the Order's dedication to the evangelization of young Catholics.
John Paul II captured the heart of World Youth Day when he said, "The future starts today, not tomorrow." Our Church and our world cannot wait until some future time to benefit from the energy and commitment of young Catholics. We need their commitment and their contribution today.
Future generations may look back with envy that we experienced firsthand the life and papacy of Blessed John Paul II. We had the privilege to see and hear him, either in person or on television. We have known him — and known him to be a special friend of the Knights of Columbus.
But if future generations envy us, I think they will also ask us what we did to keep his memory, his legacy, his vision and his mission alive.
In a special way, all of us have been touched by the pontificate of John Paul II and so — no matter our age — we are all part of the John Paul II Generation. Therefore, we all — especially the Knights of Columbus — bear a special responsibility to ensure that the pope's legacy lives on for future generations.
As we move forward this fraternal year in our work of charity, evangelization, education and membership, let us make Blessed John Paul II's words — "I have looked for you" — our own. Let us rededicate ourselves to expanding our programs benefiting young Catholics and let us also bring into our ranks as both members and leaders this generation of young Catholics.
So, let future generations be envious of us — not only because Blessed John Paul II was with us, but because in a thousand different ways we were with him.