There are many lenses through which to view Pope St. John Paul II. A book released this year by Basilian Father Thomas Rosica proposes the Polish Pontiff as a “saint for Canada” (Novalis 2014).
ZENIT spoke with Fr. Rosica about his insights into the Pope and saint who loved Canada and was loved by Canadians.
Part 1 of this interview was published Tuesday.
ZENIT: John Paul II is now set before us as a saint, as someone to emulate. Yet, how can one imitate someone as other-worldy as John Paul II?
Father Rosica: That a person is declared “Blessed” or “Saint” is not a statement about perfection. It does not mean that the person was without imperfection, blindness, deafness or sin. Nor is it a 360-degree evaluation of the Pontificate or of the Vatican. Beatification and Canonization mean that a person lived his or her life with God, relying totally on God’s infinite mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. That person lets those around him know that there is a force or spirit animating his or her life that is not of this world, but the next. Such a person lets us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and shows us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth. Canonization and holiness is not some kind of perfection that erases all kinds of faults and errors. The first requirement to be a saint in the Church is you have to be a sinner – but a sinner who recognizes the power of God’s mercy and forgiveness, and lives in that experience.
One of the most profound lessons John Paul II taught us in the twilight of his pontificate was that everyone must suffer, even the Vicar of Christ. Rather than hide his infirmities, as most public figures do, he let the whole world see what he went through. The passing of John Paul II did not take place in private, but before television cameras and the whole world. In the final act of his life, the athlete was immobilized; the distinctive, booming voice silenced; the hand that produced voluminous encyclicals no longer able to write. John Paul II’s final homily was an icon of his Galilean Master’s final words to Simon Peter:
Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” … After this [Jesus] said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18-19)
In the life of Karol Wojytyla, the boy from Wadowice who would grow up to be a priest and Bishop of Krakow, the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for the ages, holiness was contagious. We have all been touched and changed by it. Pope John Paul II was not only “Holy Father” but “a Father who was and is Holy.” At his funeral mass on April 8, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the world that the Holy Father was watching us and blessing us ‘from the window of the Father’s House.”
Let us learn from this great, contemporary saint how to cross thresholds, open doors, build bridges, embrace the Cross of suffering and proclaim the Gospel of Life to the people of our time. May we learn how to live, to suffer and die unto the Lord. Let us pray to have a small portion of the fidelity of Peter’s witness and the boldness of Paul’s proclamation that were so mightily present in Karol Wojtyla – St. John Paul II. May he intercede for us and for all those who suffer in body and spirit, and give us the desire to become holy and to be saints.
In his homily at the Beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI summarized beautifully Karol Wojtyla’s life of holiness:
“… When Karol Wojtyla ascended to the throne of Peter, he brought with him a deep understanding of the difference between Marxism and Christianity, based on their respective visions of man. This was his message: man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man. With this message, which is the great legacy of the Second Vatican Council and of its ‘helmsman’, the Servant of God Pope Paul VI, John Paul II led the People of God across the threshold of the Third Millennium, which thanks to Christ he was able to call ‘the threshold of hope’.
Throughout the long journey of preparation for the great Jubilee he directed Christianity once again to the future, the future of God, which transcends history while nonetheless directly affecting it. He rightly reclaimed for Christianity that impulse of hope which had in some sense faltered before Marxism and the ideology of progress. He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope, to be lived in history in an “Advent” spirit, in a personal and communitarian existence directed to Christ, the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace. …
“Blessed are you, beloved Pope John Paul II, because you believed! Continue, we implore you, to sustain from heaven the faith of God’s people. You often blessed us in this Square from the Apostolic Palace: Bless us, Holy Father! Amen.”
And on April 27 of this year, Pope Francis said of John Paul II:
“They (Wojtyla and Roncalli – John XXIII) were priests, bishops and popes of the twentieth century. They lived through the tragic events of that century, but they were not overwhelmed by them. For them, God was more powerful; faith was more powerful – faith in Jesus Christ the Redeemer of man and the Lord of history; the mercy of God, shown by those five wounds, was more powerful; and more powerful too was the closeness of Mary our Mother.
…In his own service to the People of God, John Paul II was the pope of the family. He himself once said that he wanted to be remembered as the pope of the family. I am particularly happy to point this out as we are in the process of journeying with families towards the Synod on the family. It is surely a journey which, from his place in heaven, he guides and sustains.”
ZENIT: From your continued work with the Holy See Press Office, as well as your work at Salt and Light, you have a unique perspective on the global response to (or interaction with) the Successor of Peter. As two Popes were just canonized, another is to be canonized, and as a Pope Emeritus and a reigning Pope live side-by-side in the Vatican, what overall reflections do you have about God’s ways in ruling his Church through the Bishops of Rome?
Father Rosica: It has been a tremendous, most unexpected privilege and a blessing to work closely with the Vatican during these momentous weeks, and years, especially over the past years of the momentous papal transition. What a lesson this has been in seeing the ministry of the Bishop of Rome up close! Having led a World Youth Day and served at two Synods of Bishops- in 2008 on the “Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church” and in 2012 on “The New Evangelization”, I thought that I had reached the summit of any great projects I could serve in the Church! I was wrong! When Fr. Federico Lombardi, SJ, Director of the Holy See Press Offices called me the day after Benedict’s resignation and asked me to come immediately to Rome, a new adventure began that continues to this day. For me, personally, Fr. Lombardi represents the religious communicator par excellence: intelligence, decency, kindness, patience, goodness and calm! I have learned much from him and admire him greatly.
People constantly ask me where I did my media training and film studies. I smile and tell them that I don’t even watch TV and I see few movies. I studied Scripture at the University of Toronto, at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, the Ecole Biblique et Arcéhologique Française de Jérusalem, and at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I learned about ancient texts, Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic verbs, and things of the past. I never studied filmmaking, media, public relations, and all the other hi-tech things that are now part of my new world.
But I also tell them that I had the privilege of having a master and mentor who knew the power of words and images, and who taught me everything I know about television, media, and Evangelization. It was a character study of nearly 27 years… a master class that I never sought out and certainly never deserved. That mentor is now a saint: Karol Wojtyla – John Paul II.
It is hardly any surprise then, in this world of faith and in the culture of the Church, that one of the first fruits of World Youth Day 2002, should be the establishment of a national, Catholic television network, truly born on the wings of World Youth Day 2002 – the project that was the driving force of my mentor’s life. This little book is merely a way of saying thanks to him.
To order your copy of “John Paul II: A Saint for Canada” visit:
Fr. Rosica may be reached at [email protected]
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, was National Director and CEO of World Youth Day 2002 in Canada. He is founder and CEO of Canada’s Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and Television Network since 2003. Appointed by Pope Benedict as Consultor to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications in 2009, he served as English language Media Attaché at the Synods of Bishops of 2008 and 2012. He has been English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office since the Papal transition of 2013.