This month of May, the month of Mary, we celebrate 100 years since the birth of St. John Paul the Great. On May 18, while celebrating Mass at John Paul II’s tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis said in his predecessor, a man sent by God, “The Lord has visited his people.”
Like many today, I had the joy of growing up with the pontificate of St. John Paul II, and I consider myself part of the “JP2 Generation,” also known in Spanish as “the Pope’s youth,” and part of the “Always Faithful Mexico” whom he loved so much.
St. John Paul II visited Mexico five times. My parents tell me that on his first trip there, in 1979, they carried me in their arms while they watched him pass by in the popemobile in the city of Puebla. Eleven years later, I remember being part of the “human fence,” together with my Scout troop, outside the Christopher Columbus School, in Naucalpan, where Pope John Paul II would pass by. We stood for more than 12 hours with thousands of people to see him for just a few seconds. Like many others, I could swear he looked me straight in the eyes.
In 1999, I was present at the Mass that he celebrated in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and again in July 2002, when he canonized St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, emphasizing Juan Diego’s vocation as a layman.
I also had the opportunity to see John Paul II in Havana, Cuba, in 1998. I remember that when he arrived, we again expected to see him pass in the popemobile behind a human fence of Cuban students. Knowing that the students were probably not Catholic, and curious to understand their presence there, we asked them if they knew who the pope was. They simply replied that he was a head of state, like others. When the expected moment arrived, and the popemobile was approaching, we were already shouting: “Juan Pablo, Segundo, everyone loves you! Long live the Pope! ....” Seconds after he passed by and we were preparing to leave, we heard one of the students crying inconsolably. When asked why, she replied that she did not know, but that seeing that John Paul II made her well up with emotion.
Like that student, even today I am moved to tears by seeing him in a video or hearing his fatherly voice. I recently discovered on YouTube the album Abbà Pater, produced by Vatican Radio, which includes words from the Holy Father in different languages, accompanied by music. Listening to it, I can picture the Holy Father full of life, with a confident, assuring, happy and energetic gaze. It is a gaze of those who know and love God intimately — a gaze of those who know that “To suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ.”
Father Raniero Cantalamessa, who has served as preacher to the papal household since 1980, reminded us of these words of St. John Paul II this past Good Friday from St. Peter’s Basilica. He added, “Thanks to the cross of Christ, suffering has also become in its own way a kind of ‘universal sacrament of salvation’ for the human race.”
But John Paul II’s greatest confidence and strength was found “at the crossroads” of Mary’s arms, “in the hollow” of her mantle, in knowing that Mary has “the honor and happiness” of being our Mother, given to us by Christ himself on the Cross. “Totus Tuus!” was the motto of his pontificate, which consecrated all of humanity to her.
Today, we must keep alive St. John Paul II’s memory and study his teachings, actions and words. Pope Francis also emphasized three aspects of John Paul II’s life: his life of prayer, his closeness to people, and his love of a “justice in mercy and merciful justice.”
But beyond remembering John Paul II’s many words and writings, beyond baptizing one’s son with his name, or framing one of the many photogenic images of the saint, we must zealously live his words; we must show the world through the testimony of our actions that we are truly the JP2 Generation.
In a general audience on December 1999, John Paul II said, “In face of this culture of death our responsibility as Christians is expressed in commitment to the "new evangelization", one of whose most important fruits is the civilization of love.”
We, the baptized, the Church and flock of Christ, actively build the civilization of love every day “by a Christian witness continuously nourished by the Holy Spirit's creative and healing action.”
Those of us who enjoy the gift of being a Knight of Columbus have great concrete opportunities in our councils to build the civilization of love through the Order’s Faith in Action programs, through the new Leave No Neighbor Behind initiative, and through the so many works of mercy that we carry out together for our communities and for the world.
In his message to state conventions this year, Supreme Knight Carl Anderson said, “Father McGivney's gift to us of this wonderful organization was never intended as a gift for only a few. It was always meant to be shared.”
What better way to celebrate these 100 years of our Lord's visit to his people through the person of St. John Paul II than by being generous witnesses of the civilization of love? Better yet, we can also give a friend, relative or acquaintance the gift of our brotherhood, inviting others to build with us this civilization of love.
Near the end of his life, during his visit to Spain in 2003, John Paul II said, “Looking back and remembering those years of my life, I can assure you that it is worthwhile dedicating oneself to the cause of Christ and, out of love for him, devoting oneself to serving humanity. It is worthwhile to give one’s life for the Gospel and for one’s brothers and sisters!”
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