A decade ago today, Pope St. John Paul II relinquished his charge over the keys, thus ending his 9664 day pontificate, the third longest in the history of the Church. Karol Wojtyła, Archbishop of Krakow was, like his patron Saint Charles Borromeo, the first bishop to attempt to seriously implement a recently completed ecumenical council in his diocese. For St. Charles, it was implementing the reforms of the Council of Trent, and for St. John Paul it was beginning the renewal of Church and society called for at the Second Vatican Council.
John Paul II took his program of Church renewal with him to the papacy, where he gave it an apt title, the New Evangelization. In just about every document from Vatican II, the overriding consideration was what would come to be called the New Evangelization. The need for renewal in the Church and society was already quite apparent everywhere well before the Council was called (save perhaps in the United States). John Paul’s pontificate began the long, arduous, and seemingly impossible task of making this renewal a reality.
John Paul II, like many of the popes over the last century or so, seemed to be prescient about an impending crisis facing humanity that would make the turmoil of the 20th century, a period he called the “century of tears,” seem pale in comparison. It is for this reason that he began his pontificate with the admonition to be not afraid. This is a central message of God to His people. We hear it in Gabriel’s admonition to Mary at the Annunciation, in the Angel’s greeting to the shepherds of Bethlehem after Jesus’ nativity, in Jesus’ comforting of His disciples on the Sea of Galilee and of Peter, James and John on Mount Tabor. Be not afraid Christians, because the King of Kings has now arrived: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on an ass’s colt!” (Jn 12:15).
For those with eyes to see, this could indeed be seen as a fearful time. Militant Islam has added a new scourge to the plight of Christians who have long been suffering for the faith throughout the world. In the United States a religious freedom, of which Catholics have only relatively recently have been full beneficiaries, is now threatened. We can now clearly see the pathway that will soon lead to a time of decision: to publically witness to the faith and lose the benefits of citizenship or to deny the faith in order to be considered an acceptable member of polite society; a decision untold numbers of Christians around the world have been forced to make since Pentecost.
St. John Paul II lived through such times, from the frying pan of Nazi occupation to the fire of totalitarian communism, and he understood that such times were not over. Yet, he insisted that there is no need to fear. He wrote, “The power of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection is greater than any evil which man could or should fear” (Crossing the Threshold of Hope). He insisted that now was not a time to retreat from society, but to engage it and to bring it the message of the merciful love of Jesus Christ. St. John Paul II demonstrated over the 26 plus years of his pontificate, an untiring, fearless determination to witness the power of the Cross of Jesus Christ to a world sorely in need of this joyous message. It is a witness MAI takes as a model for its mission to serve the New Evangelization.
St. John Paul II, pray for us!