BRUSSELS, Belgium, APRIL 15, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The legacy of John Paul II is not something to look back upon, but to use as a guide and inspiration for the future, says the bishop of Namur, Belgium.
Bishop André-Mutien Léonard, philosophy professor the Catholic University of Leuven and member of the International Theological Commission, reflects in this interview with ZENIT on the person of John Paul II, and what expectations Catholics should have now with respect to the conclave.
The bishop has dedicated most of his ministry to young people, and in 1999, he was invited to preach spiritual exercises to John Paul II and the Roman Curia during Lent.
Q: The world has just rendered unprecedented homage to the deceased Pontiff. How do you interpret this reaction? Who was John Paul II for you?
Bishop Léonard: John Paul II was like a parish priest to the whole world. He went out to meet all the peoples of the earth. In the last years, his pastoral visits required an enormous moral and physical effort. People understood this.
They wanted to come to meet him who had gone out to seek them across the world. To do so, they have endured many difficulties and long hours of patience. It was their way, simple and eloquent, to respond with love to the love of this Pope who loved them.
Beyond the important topics of an exceptionally rich pontificate, which deserve profound recognition, it was the heart that spoke. And it was very good.
Q: John Paul II named you bishop of Namur and called you to preach the Lenten retreat in the Vatican. What word or image is your most personal memory of him?
Bishop Léonard: I never knew my father on earth. He died in the war, when I was 10 days old. In a certain sense, John Paul II has been my second father — the one who is responsible for my being who and what I am. He named me bishop of Namur in 1991.
I owe him so much in terms of inspiration and encouragement. In this sense he has begotten me, as a real father.
When calling me to preach in Lent of 1999, he showed enormous confidence in me. At the end of that retreat, he received me for half an hour to have a beautiful spiritual exchange that made a great impression on me. In taking leave of me, he embraced me with so much affection that I felt his love as a real father’s love.
Therefore, when he died, I wept as a son weeps for his beloved father. And many others did so with me.
Q: These days, the faithful arrive in St. Peter’s Square and feel somewhat disoriented under his window, which is now closed. In the Masses for the repose of his soul that are being held, the “novendiali,” the basilica is full. How can the faithful be helped during these days when the See of Peter is vacant?
Bishop Léonard: During the vacancy of the See, we must pray much for Pope John Paul II, but also with him, in particular so that the conclave will be perfectly docile to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit and elect a new Pope who, instead of “substituting” John Paul II, will have to “succeed” him with much courage and confidence.
Q: How is it possible to take up the legacy left by John Paul II?
Bishop Léonard: John Paul II’s legacy, like that of the Second Vatican Council, allowing for the distance in time, is not something that is now behind us; rather, it is before us, as a program, which must serve as inspiration for a long time.
His successor will prolong it undoubtedly, but in his own way, as a pope can be inspired by his predecessor, but cannot copy him. Above all, John Paul II’s doctrinal solidity, his prophetic opening to the inspirations of the Spirit, and his immense pastoral charity will have to be brought together in a new way.
Q: And how should Catholics prepare to accept the one the Spirit calls to succeed him?
Bishop Léonard: Above all, very precise, preconceived ideas should be avoided about who John Paul II’s successor will be. The cardinals should be allowed to discern in prayer the one the Holy Spirit intends. When the “white smoke” rises, the one the Lord sends should be received with a great heart. Let us support him with our prayer and filial love.
Q: What are you hoping for?
Bishop Léonard: As Thérèse of Lisieux said, “we receive from God what we hope from him.” Therefore, we hope for the most. And he will more than satisfy us. This is what Julian of Norwich meant in the famous phrase “All will be well!”