The beatification of Pope John Paul II provides a new occasion for the Catholic Organization for Life and Family to pay tribute to the one who was, from 1978 to 2005, the “sweet Christ on earth” as saint Catherine of Sienna affectionately called the Holy Father. It is with much joy that we renew our 2005 tribute, titled “John Paul II: Prophet of Life and Family”.
With the passing of Pope John Paul II, whose life was dedicated totally to Christ, to the Church and to all of humanity, Catholics from Canada and around the world have lost a father. This spiritual father missed no opportunity to tell the men and women of the beginning of this third millennium about God’s unimaginable love for each and every one of them.
At the heart of the brilliant teachings of Karol Wojtyla, who became the Holy Father in 1978, is his proclamation and rigorous defense of the Gospel of Life and the Family. Despite opposing currents, John Paul II never stopped inviting believers to build a civilization of love, against all obstacles and in a spirit of joy and courage, with their sights set on Christ.
A culture of life
The majority of Catholics have yet to discover many of the Pope’s prophetic teachings. John Paul II was inspired by an anthropological Christian vision based on the natural order established by God throughout creation, where the truth about the human person, marriage and the family is found.
In response to a culture of death that first and foremost attacks the family, the place where life begins and develops, John Paul II promoted a culture of life. He called us to respect the sacred character of the life of each person, from the moment of our conception to our natural death. He fought against all attacks on the fundamental dignity of the human person, who is created in the image of God. He called for the humanization of society, which would benefit everyone, especially little ones and the poor – beginning with unborn children.
Welcoming the new Spanish ambassador to the Holy See on June 18, 2004, the Pope declared, “To protect human life is the duty of all, as the question of life and of its promotion is not only the prerogative of Christians, but belongs to every human conscience that aspires to truth and is concerned about humanity’s destiny.… The real ‘social conquests’ are the ones that promote and protect, at the same time, the life of each individual and the common good of society.”
The joy of parenting
From the beginning to the end of his papacy, the Polish pope was the herald of God’s plan for the family based on marriage: encouraging young couples to rediscover the joy of having children and of teaching their children to co-operate in the work of creation. His teachings have often reminded us that the intimate and complementary union between a man and a woman - their covenant based on an exclusive commitment, faithfulness, permanence and an openness to life - is the ideal setting of love and solidarity into which children can be born and raised.
During one of his international meetings with families, or small “domestic churches,” the Pope encouraged them to centre their lives on Jesus Christ and invited each family member to respond to the call of his or her baptism: to identify with Christ through an intimate relationship with him (nourished through prayer, reading God’s Word and participating in the sacraments) and to proclaim to the world the liberating message of the Gospel with the courage and the freedom of children of God. He asked them to become agents of the new evangelization in a world that seeks meaning and points of reference, by being citizens who are apostles of hope, involved in all spheres of society and working for the good of all.
Knowing how much effort is involved, John Paul II encouraged families to work together to fulfill their social and political role in the crucial debates of the beginning of this third millennium. He himself seized each opportunity with national and international decision-makers to defend the inalienable rights of the family, society’s most basic and vital cell. Unceasingly, he reminded them to support the institutions of marriage and the family and to respect the sovereignty of the family, including the rights of parents to raise their children according to their values and beliefs.
“In our day a misunderstood sense of rights sometimes troubles the very nature of the family institution and of the conjugal bond,” he said during the Angelus on December 28, 2003. “People who believe in the importance of the family based on marriage should join forces at all levels. The family is a human and divine reality that should be defended and promoted as a fundamental social good.”
“Do not be afraid!”
Does it need to be said again? Pope John Paul II had a tremendous impact on the lives of countless young people who were searching for the truth and for meaning in their lives. In him, they found a father who dared to propose a radical choice of faith and life, particularly during the World Youth Days that he initiated. Many young people of the “John Paul II generation” became “morning watchmen at the dawn of the new millennium” in response to their friend the Pope, who showed them the way to real love, true freedom and everlasting joy. Through the Pope’s “theology of the body,” which is still too little known, young people discovered Christ’s revelation about the true nature of man and woman.
Furthermore, as a model for all those who face suffering, aging and death, John Paul II remained faithful to these challenges to the very end. His example is a prophetic one in a society that is tempted by assisted suicide and euthanasia. He carried the cross of his illness with courage, demonstrating that old age can be a very fruitful time of life and that a person’s dignity is not based on quality of life, but on the fact that he or she is created in the image of God. He showed us that each person can choose to live his or her life and death as Christ did, for the sake of love.
For all families and for each of their members, John Paul II’s legacy is that of a life offered to God, in joy as in sorrow, and an experience of life fully lived. To find the secret of his life, given entirely for others – the great challenge for families – we remember his first words as Peter’s successor. “Do not be afraid!”, he told us. Christ, the Conqueror of all evil, is always by your side!