Continuing our series looking forward to the beatification of Pope John Paul II, we concentrate on the roots of his work with young people and his conviction that God’s glory was the reason for all that he did.
It is easy to be cynical about the World Youth Days instituted by John Paul II: they were simply a chance for him to show off his dramatic personality, or to be some kind of religious rock star, this argument runs. Yet to engage in this kind of cynicism, as many both inside and outside the Church do, is to miss the point.
The World Youth Days, which began in Rome in 1985, were not some kind of ‘Catholic Woodstock,’ they were part of the Pontiff’s implementation of Vatican II on a global scale.
Just as in Krakow, as a priest, a bishop and an archbishop, he had a special ministry to young people, speaking to them about who they were, what their worth was and how that should encourage them to live their lives, the World Youth Days globalised that same message of faith as the foundation stone of our existence.
The Council Fathers at Vatican II had, echoing Blessed John Henry Newman, called for the laity to be deeply formed in faith, and this was what the Pope was trying to achieve, as Fr Andrzej Koprowski SJ comments:
“With the creation of the World Youth Days, the Pope gave his support to various forms of activity of lay people in the life and mission of the Church.”
God sustains our efforts
Karol Wojtyla was seen live by more people than possibly any other man in history, and was certainly the most visible Vicar of Christ ever. At the World Youth Day event in the Philippines in 1995, for example, a crowd of more than 5 million was reported.
What had they come to see? Was the Holy Father ahead of his time in instituting some kind of cult of celebrity?
Not according to Jim Gallagher, who summarizes the real key to this aspect of the Pope’s work in his biography, John Paul II – The Road to Sainthood:
“John Paul’s outreach to the young was successful because they recognized that he genuinely did love them, that he was a genuine man of God and true pastor.”
Love and mercy
Fr Koprowski adds:
“The foundation of all the efforts of our life is in God. We are covered by divine love, by the results of Redemption and Salvation. But we must help people to become deeply rooted in God himself.”
For Fr Koprowski, John Paul II understood the immense value of this love and the mercy that goes with it, and that is not something on offer anywhere else save in God.
“He was aware that modern culture and its language do not have a place for mercy, treating it as something strange; they try to inscribe everything in the categories of justice and law. But this does not suffice, for it is not what the reality of God is about.”
John Paul II – The Road to Sainthood by Jim Gallagher is available from CTS priced £2.95
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