He has fought the good fight. He has run the race. And now, a merited crown awaits him. Pope John Paul II, after 26 years of faithful preaching and service to God, has returned home to his Lord.
This saintly man from Poland was certainly called to be a priest, teacher and comforter of souls. He was by no means an ordinary light. As a matter of fact, he so excelled that the church elected him pope, supported his journeys of faith to every corner of the globe and encouraged him to work for God's peace on Earth.
Blessed with immense linguistic skills, the pope was able to study and master other languages so well that people worldwide could hear him speaking distinctly in their own tongue.
Karol Wojtyla brought a special gift to every nation he visited. He loved people and was especially fond of children. Asked about this, he said he had known so much darkness in his own life that he could understand the lives and feelings of young people. The pope's mother died when he was only 9. His brother died when Karol was 12, and his father when the Holy Father prelate was 21.
John Paul II was aware of the downside of life. When addressing the issue of AIDS, he initially thought of writing a papal letter about this terminal illness. Upon reflection, he choose instead to call Mother Teresa and invite her to Rome to open an AIDS center. He knew that people today need to not only hear words from the church, but also to see action.
Pope John Paul II was truly grounded in his preaching. He frequently spoke about Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. Knowing what it was to suffer, he began each day with prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist. In these spiritual moments, alone with God, he would articulate all of the pain he'd seen in his lifetime. He would ask God to help him feed the hungry, visit the sick and take care of God's neediest people.
Anyone who knew the pope knew his great feeling for the disabled. He arranged for the handicapped to be seated closest to him at any event. After the service, he would walk over to those who were disabled, embrace them and look into their eyes.
John Paul II was courageous. After being chosen pope in 1978, he made his first papal trip back to Poland. Standing at the podium, he turned to address the Polish president, declaring that the communist revolution, begun in 1917, would fade away, but the revolution begun 2,000 years before would continue for the rest of time.
Long a champion of human and religious rights, John Paul II fought hard for Poland's Solidarity movement because he knew that without Christ there was no hope.
Despite his own adherence to the promises of Christ, the pope also praised the goals of other religions. He invited the leaders of many religious denominations to Assisi on Oct. 4 for the feast of St. Francis.
Perhaps the most appealing parts of the pope's life were the stories individuals told about meeting him.
Volumes have been written about how he went to prison to forgive the young man who shot him in St. Peter's Square.
A couple from New York, who desperately wanted to adopt a child, seemed blocked at every turn. They asked the Holy Father to pray for them. The couple soon received word that they would have a child within weeks.
A musical conductor approached the pope about sponsoring a concert for Holocaust survivors. The Holy Father listened intently and concluded that the Vatican would be the proper place to hold the event. Seventy Holocaust survivors went to Rome and shared their stories with the pope. John Paul asked the Jewish people to forgive Christians for not having been more present to Jews during the Holocaust. The pope also visited a synagogue in Rome, the Western Wall, the museum at Yad Vashem in Israel, and Auschwitz. He diplomatically acknowledged the State of Israel.
On a personal note, in 1992, Father Tom had the opportunity to visit with the pope. He brought along a copy of "Where Does God Live?," the children's book we wrote together. The pope began reading the book, then looked up and said, "Please give my regards to the rabbi. You are doing God's work by working together. It's so important that people sense your faith, your friendship and your love of God."
He came to this Earth as a child of God, and he left us as a saint from God.
Monsignor Tom Hartman and Rabbi Marc Gellman are happy to try to answer your religious, personal or ethical questions. Contact the God Squad, c/o Telecare, 1200 Glenn Curtiss Blvd., Uniondale, N.Y. 11553 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.