By Kathleen Naab
NEW YORK, APRIL 8, 2011 (Zenit.org).- With his 26-year pontificate, soon-to-be Blessed John Paul II guided, educated and inspired a whole generation of Catholics.
These Catholics often refer to him as John Paul the Great, and point to his witness when they speak of their vocations — to the priesthood, to religious life, to marriage — and to the universal call to sanctity, wherever God places them.
A survey of this generation brings to mind the variety of gifts about which St. Paul speaks: different kinds of service but the same Spirit and Lord, and “the same God who produces all of them in everyone.” They might be serving in the Vatican or serving in the kitchen and the laundry, but they find in John Paul the Great a model to follow.
ZENIT spoke to a handful of JPII generation Catholics — from a variety of walks of life, but drawn together by their experience of World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto with the largest pilgrim group from the United States: the delegation from Erie, Pennsylvania. They all speak of the gratitude they feel for the Polish Pontiff.
Greg Schlueter led the organization for the Toronto pilgrimage and is coordinating JP2Journey — an online week-by-week recap of the pilgrimage experience.
“If it’s true that to see reality correctly we must see it ‘God-bathed,’ as Frank Sheed has suggested, then I can’t help but thank God for the tremendous gift of John Paul II, who has substantially given me the lens,” Schlueter reflected.
Schlueter told ZENIT how his vocation as a husband and father of seven is marked by the soon-to-be beatified Pope.
“John Paul II’s vision opened my eyes to more clearly see and know Jesus Christ, in and through whom I’m coming to more fully understand our essential identity and mission as family: we image the Trinity. Our mission flows from this identity. We have been designed to participate in the very life of the Trinity, to make (God Who is) love known!” he said. “What a high and noble dignity!”
In fact, this conviction led Schlueter to found ImageTrinity.com to invite families to discover and live their identity.
“I’m overwhelmed when I think of these tremendous personal and corporate blessings that have come by way of John Paul II, and am so moved that we can seek his intercession now as a blessed of heaven,” he said.
Every day in every way
Father Edward Lohse, a priest of the Diocese of Erie, ordained in the Polish Pope’s 11th year as Peter’s Successor, is serving the Church at the top of its leadership. He’s been working for nine months as an official of the Congregation for the Clergy.
He also speaks of a debt of gratitude to John Paul the Great. Father Lohse remembers the Holy Father’s “witness of what it means to be a priest, striving each day to be faithful to Christ, to the Church, and to the people he was called to serve.”
“By word and example, he showed us how to love with the heart of Christ,” Father Lohse reflected. “[…] I sensed that when he preached about Christ, he was speaking not of some abstract truth, but of someone he knew personally, of someone whom he loved, and of someone who loved him.”
Statia Brown is another member of the JPII generation who found her calling to serve God by forming a family. “Pope John Paul II has taught me how to praise God every day in every way,” the mother of two explained. “He was a man who gave everything to the Lord. In my vocation as wife and mother his example has helped me to give the Lord the joys and trials of everyday life.”
Totus tuus attitude
Far from being perceived as a distant ecclesiastic off in Rome, John Paul II affected the generation of Catholics who grew up and matured under his reign to such an extent that some of them consider him a friend.
Father Dan Hoffman, a priest of Erie studying canon law at the Catholic University of America, said the Pope “continues to inspire me to be a true witness of Christ to others by living my life with a ‘totus tuus’ attitude.”
“I want to be a priest and a man that totally belongs to Christ and his Church and inspires others to give their lives totally to them as well,” Father Hoffman said. “He will always be a true friend and companion to me.”
John Paul II’s legacy promises to continue for years to come. As his own spiritual children form the next generation of Catholics, the mark of the Polish Pope is sure to endure.
Jim Gallagher is one of those who will pass the seal of the JPII generation to the next wave of faithful. He works in education and is the father of seven. His first encounter with John Paul II was at the other North American World Youth Day: the one hosted by Denver in 1993. He and his wife hope to bring their seven children to Rome for the next Jubilee Year in 2025.
He described John Paul II’s zeal and fervor as “infectious.”
“Although John Paul II addressed multitudes of Catholic faithful, he emanated the presence of Christ in such a way that I felt his message was intended for me personally,” Gallagher recounted.
Wife and mother Stephanie Muhs is herself convinced that John Paul II will be remembered forever.
“I am so grateful for the life of John Paul II,” the New York youth minister affirmed. “Experiencing the joy he had, even in his suffering, really convicted me to live for Christ even when it hurts. Life is not always easy, but when we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, and our hearts open to him, we win! And in the end, John Paul II was a winner. His life will forever be remembered as saintly and full of love.”