Focus on the Lesson of John XXIII, 40 Years After His Death

«Joy Is in Profound and Constant Communion With God»

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VATICAN CITY, JUNE 4, 2003 ( Here is a translation of John Paul’s address at today’s general audience, dedicated to the memory of Pope John XXIII.

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Dear Brothers and Sisters!

1. It is now 40 years since the beloved and venerated Pope John XXIII died, whom I had the joy of proclaiming blessed, together with Pius IX, on Sept. 3 of the year 2000.

My thoughts turn spontaneously to Monday, June 3, 1963: to that afternoon, when the faithful of Rome and pilgrims gathered in the thousands in St. Peter’s Square, to be as close as possible to the beloved Father and Pastor who, after a long and painful illness, was leaving this world.

At 7 p.m., in the courtyard of the Vatican basilica, the pro-vicar of Rome, Cardinal Luigi Traglia, began the holy Mass, while [the Pope] from his bed, which had become an altar, consummated his spiritual sacrifice, the sacrifice of his whole life.

From a very crowded St. Peter’s Square, there arose a unanimous prayer of the Church to heaven. One seems to be reliving those moments of intense emotion: the gaze of the whole of humanity was turned toward the window of the third floor of the Apostolic Palace. The end of that Mass coincided with the death of the Good Pope.

2. «This bed is an altar; the altar needs a victim: Here I am, ready. I offer my life for the Church, for the continuation of the ecumenical council, for peace in the world, for Christian unity» («Addresses, Messages, Conversations of the Holy Father John XXIII,» V, p. 618).

«Ecce adsum!» Here I am, ready! Throughout his life, the serene thought of death accompanied Pope John who, at the hour of farewell, looked upon the future and the expectations of the People of God and of the world. With an emotional voice, he affirmed that the secret of his priesthood was in the crucifix, always jealously kept in front of his bed. «In the long and frequent nocturnal conversations,» he observed, «the thought of the redemption of the world seemed to me more urgent than ever.» «Those open arms,» he added, «say that he died for all, for all; no one is denied his love, his forgiveness» (ibid., 618).

It is not difficult to perceive in these brief words the meaning of his priestly ministry, entirely dedicated to making known and loved «that which is worth most in life: blessed Jesus Christ: his holy Church, his Gospel» (ibid., 612). Until the end this longing palpitated in him. «My earthly life is ending,» Blessed John XXIII concluded, «but Christ lives and the Church continues her task; souls, souls: ‘ut unum sint, ut unum sint’ …» (ibid., 619).

3. Less than two months earlier, on April 11, John XXIII had published the most famous document of his magisterium: the encyclical «Pacem in Terris,» which I have had the occasion to recall several times this year. The whole life of this unforgettable Pontiff was a testimony of peace. His pontificate was revealed as a lofty prophecy of peace, which found in «Pacem in Terris» its perfect expression, almost a public and universal testament.

«Every believer, in this our world,» he wrote, «must be a spark of light, a center of love, a vivifying ferment in the dough: He will be so to the degree that, in his innermost being, he lives in communion with God. In fact, there can be no peace among men if there is no peace in each one of them» (Part V: «Acta Apostolicae Sedis» (AAS), LV [1963], p. 302).

To be a spark of light one must live in permanent contact with God. My venerated predecessor, who has left a mark on history, also reminds men of the third millennium that the secret of peace and joy is in profound and constant communion with God. The Heart of the Redeemer is the source of love and peace, of hope and joy.

Our memory of the beloved Pope John is thus transformed into a prayer: May he intercede in paradise so that we too, like him, may confess at the end of our life, that we have only sought Christ and his Gospel.

May Mary — whom he loved to invoke with the beautiful ejaculation, «Mater mea, fiducia mea!» — help us to persevere by word and example in the commitment to witness to peace in order to contribute to the construction of the civilization of love.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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