Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
I would be remiss to not acknowledge the feast day of St. John Paul II on October 22. It was John Paul II who selected me to the episcopacy, and I proudly wear the moniker of being a John Paul II bishop. I know quite a few bishops in the United States and worldwide also share that distinction.
As I reflected on the impact St. John Paul II had on the Catholic Church in the United States, and the Catholic Church throughout the world, I marveled at what could only be interpreted as the work of the Holy Spirit. This was a man who was elected to the papacy at the age of 58. He emerged from the obscurity of Communist Poland. A man of the people, he was well-versed in challenging political climates that enslaved people and denied the free expression of faith. We can learn a lot from him given the hostility to religion in our society today. He possessed a towering philosophical intellect that expanded theological doctrine with uncanny insights into the modern world. His depiction of a culture of life versus a culture of death still rings true.
From the earliest moments of his pontificate, he accepted that he was the pastor of the world and embarked on visiting every country. It was reputed that he was the most photographed person on the globe. Those in their sixties will remember his first visit to the United States. Many people could only dream of the possibility of going to Rome and attending a papal audience and actually seeing the Pope, and here he was coming to us. Suddenly, young men were considering the priesthood, remarking that it was through the inspiration of Pope John Paul II.
With St. John Paul II, Catholicism ceased being defensive and unabashedly encouraged the faithful to evangelize their communities and celebrate their faith. He canonized more saints than any pope before him and, in all probability, after him. He knew the importance of witnesses and wanted all of us to understand that sainthood is a universal goal. Those he canonized represented every aspect of life, recognizing that holiness is not just reserved for priests and religious, but can be embodied in everything we do.
His attempted assassination shocked the world. Here he was, the courageous proclaimer, unafraid to face the evils of the world with confidence in our Lord and Savior, even if it meant martyrdom. As an example of the power of Christ’s love, St. John Paul II visited his attempted assassin in prison and forgave him. This was a real personal lesson of forgiveness.
Before he was pope, St. John Paul II was similarly filled with great energy and was enthusiastically supported. He skied, swam and mountain-climbed. He sang songs with young groups who serenaded him at various gatherings. There was no doubt that he was widely popular. But, there was something even more special about his later years. It was almost sacred. Later, when he could barely speak, suffering from a debilitating disease, he was the loving grandfather longing to be with his children. He was even more like Christ in his public suffering. He seemed to be offering up his life as reparation for the sins of the Church and the failure of the faithful to fully live the love of Christ. He was leaving his legacy for us, giving us an example to live every moment for Christ.
His funeral was the most-watched event in the history of humankind. Over a billion people watched this witness to freedom, this religious leader, the “Good Shepherd” and their Holy Father being laid to rest. Many wondered what we would do without him. And, at this moment, I heard his voice and the statement most associated with his pontificate: “Be not afraid.”
Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in the one who sent me, and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.” (John 12:44-45)
St. John Paul II, during these chaotic times, help us to be not afraid and LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Note: This blog originally appeared as the October 20, 2020 "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki. If you are interested in signing up for these email messages, please click here.