Study Day Looks at John Paul II and Wisdom of the Cross

Polish Pontiff Considered a Witness and Teacher

By H. Sergio Mora

ROME, MAY 22, 2012 ( A day of study and reflection on “The Wisdom of the Cross in the Teaching of John Paul II” was held this month at the church of Santo Stefano degli Abissini in the Vatican. The day included a period of prayer presided over by Cardinal Angelo Comastri at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II.

Several points were addressed during the meeting: the thought of Pope John Paul II in his encyclicals as a great contribution to the Second Vatican Council and his concept of the person, which did not stem from books but from his pastoral experience.

Above all, however, was the witness of a pope, whose most convincing and best understood message by the crowds during his pontificate was, in fact, his weakness, or better his acceptance of suffering.

Professor Fernando Taccone, director of the Gloria Crucis chair of the Pontifical Lateran University, explained to ZENIT that these programs take place twice during the academic year. “In April we addressed the meaning of life as answer to the meaning of the cross. Now we are addressing the wisdom of the cross in the life and teaching of John Paul II. Then the minutes will be published to be presented to the scientific and academic world,” he said.

“We generally do this at the Lateran University, but this year, precisely because the theme was on John Paul II, we wished to insert a meditation and a moment of prayer at the Blessed’s altar. This was possible thanks to Cardinal Angelo Comastri, who presided over the meditation and because he ceded to us the church of Santo Stefano agli Abissini, where 250 people attended.”

In regard to the John Paul II theme, Taccone explained that it was chosen “because we wanted to give an experiential key to the subject of the cross through the life of a person, his figure and thought.”

In his address Professor Gilfredo Marengo of the John Paul II Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family recalled John Paul II’s three encyclicals Redemptor Hominis, Dives in Misericordia and Dominum et vivificantem.

“I wished to mention them because they represent the great contribution of this Pope to the reception of Vatican II, in which a profoundly unitary reading emerges of the mystery of Christ and of the mystery of man, centered on the Redemption,” he said to ZENIT.

“A Trinitarian triptych as well as an attempt to synthesize the course of reflection on the life of the Church that Wojtyla began at Krakow in the 70s, and that he then brought to Rome to develop in the other texts up to Dominum et vivificantem of 1986,” as a specific contribution to the implementation of the teachings of Vatican II (especially of the Constitution Gaudium et spes, a text particularly loved by the Pontiff).

John Paul II traced “a course that witnesses the awareness of the relationship between the Mystery of the Redemption in Jesus Christ and the singular existence and dignity of man,” in order to have emerge “the pertinence of the mission of the Church with the service to man, through the mystery of his life,” continued Marengo.

This witness is presented and offered to the whole Church as central content of his Petrine ministry. “Wishing to suggest a possible synthetic formula, it could be said that, in the light of the encyclicals dedicated to the Council, the central concern of that fundamental ecclesial event is redirected by the Pope to the triptych Christ-Man-Church,” added the docent.

And the concept that John Paul II elaborated on the person did not stem from a book but from his pastoral experience. “He attracted people because he was a witness and a pastor, first of all, a man who felt a singular unity between the institutional task that the figure of the Pope has in the Church and his humanity,” concluded Marengo.


For his part Cardinal Georges Marie Cottier, retired theologian of the Pontifical Household, recalled John Paul II’s motto, Totus tuus, referred to Our Lady and elaborated on by Saint Louis Marie Grignon de Montfort in the Treatise of True Devotion to Mary.

Cardinal Cottier said that the Blessed Pope saw, in fact, “a sign of Mary’s maternity on our time, marked by persecutions and the collapse of totalitarianisms” and “he was aware of that, as attested by his reading of the attack of May 13, day of Our Lady of Fatima.”

Father Ottaviano D’Egidio, superior general of the Passionists, pointed out that even before his teaching, the great legacy of John Paul II “is his witness of life.” In this connection, he concluded recalling the “Do not be afraid. Open, better still, open wide the doors to Christ,” as a symbolic sign that “what he asked of everyone he himself had done first.”

In his intervention, the rector of the Pontifical Lateran University, Monsignor Enrico dal Covolo, said: “That John Paul II was one ‘called,’ in the biblical sense of the term, is an increasingly widespread conviction in the people who met him.”

Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, vice director of the Vatican press office, focused his comments on John Paul II’s capacity to communicate the Christian message, to be a bridge and a mediator “living his sufferings as fulfillment of the will of God.”

He lived his Petrine ministry fully “both in the period of his physical vigor, when he was called God’s athlete, as well as in his time of weakness and sickness,” he recalled. “In fact, he gave the most convincing part of his message precisely in his weakness.”

The series of interventions were concluded by the Vatican journalist Aldo Maria Valli, who spoke of the “weak strength” of this Pope who “never made a mystery of his physical problems” and of the “concern that some often had about what such a weak, tired and sick Pontiff could say to young people.”

John Paul II instead “exceeded every precaution,” said the journalist. “The Pope made a breach in the mystery of pain, a mystery that is clarified only in Jesus Christ, who does not answer in an abstract way but with a call: follow me.”

“This is why the Pope, although ever older and more tired, never stopped,” concluded Valli, “but up to the end wanted to take the proclamation of the Gospel to the world.”

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