Tomorrow, October 22, the Church celebrates the memorial of St. John Paul II. It is hard to think of a modern saint who inspired and continues to inspire both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. (Upon John Paul’s death in 2005, Fidel Castro – certainly no fan of the Church – said, “Humanity will preserve an emotional memory of the tireless work of His Holiness John Paul II in favor of peace, justice and solidarity among all people.”
For those who lived during the entirety of John Paul II’s papacy, a few moments stand out. That first glimpse of the new pope, “a man from a far country,” electrified the Church. One of the leading intellectuals of the 20th century, Pope John Paul II radically changed not only the papacy, he boldly taught a more complete philosophy of sexuality in his “Theology of the Body.”
It was clear that one of this pope’s favorite “duties” was to visit the young people of the world at World Youth Days. He loved them, and they loved him right back. Yet, St. John Paul II always had a clear message for young people, and that message was the Gospel, to be lived boldly and fearlessly.
At World Youth Day 2005, St. John Paul II told the young people of the world:
It is Jesus you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.
It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.
As we remember St. John Paul II this weekend, let us remember not only the man and his papacy, but his bold vision for the Church and for believers, as expressed in his first homily as pope: “Be not afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!