Recently Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to the Church of Poland in honor of this anniversary. In the letter he seemed to have argued in favor of formally giving John Paul the title “the Great”. A lot of people would agree.
Benedict brought up the examples of John Paul’s (of their) papal predecessors, Leo the Great (+461) and Gregory the Great (+604). With military might, Leo and Gregory somehow fended off, respectively, the Huns and the Lombards. They were Popes in turbulent and dangerous times. John Paul was indubitably a key player in bringing down the Soviet bloc. All three contributed significant writings.
Benedict himself has played a key role in the defense of the Church, all society really, from the dictatorship of relativism. How successful he was in that endeavor as Pope remains to be seen.
John Paul, reduced terribly by the ravages of illness, did not resign. His last days were themselves a testament to the value of human life. At the same time, his weakened condition permitted some less than virtuous players more power in the Church, the effects of which we are still dealing with today.
At one point, back in 2016, I said that John Paul should be declared Doctor of the Church, with the nickname, Doctor Misericordiae. His teaching contributions to the Church are numerous. Also the movement to have him declared such would surely slow the obvious systematic erosion of his body of teaching as Pope. For the last few years, what John Paul upheld and clarified about, for example, objective truth and morals, has been under attack at the highest levels. I cannot shake the idea that Benedict wrote what he wrote to the Polish bishops in part because of the manifest attack on John Paul’s magisterial writings. There has also been a methodical purge of the last Woytlians and Ratzingerians in the Curia and Roman school. It seems to me that Divine Mercy Sunday would be a good day for such a declaration. Perhaps it’s time to jump start that project. I resonate also with the position that it takes some time to absorb the impact of a saint’s writings. Still, given the offensive against his magisterium, sooner could be better than later.
When you read Papa Ratzinger’s aforementioned letter, don’t skip over his description of resistance to plastering over the ancient Sunday “in albis” with the modern innovation of “Divine Mercy” Sunday. I share that resistance. I have nothing against the modern devotion, but I don’t think it’s promotion should be at the expense of something so ancient and deeply rooted. But I digress.
I met the late Pope, John Paul, many times during my Roman years. I served Mass for him and was deacon for Masses on numerous occasions. He always recognized me. He ordained me. I have some amusing anecdotes which perhaps someday I’ll share here. He was a pleasure to be with, but when you were with him, his presence was palpable.
That’s three Popes I’ve known a bit or well. I also had many opportunities to speak, even at length, with Joseph Ratzinger. When Card. Bergoglio would come to Rome, he stayed in the same residence where I lived for years. We shared a lunch or supper table many times.
Francis today celebrated Mass at the tomb of John Paul which is in the main Basilica of St. Peter. At one point the late Pope had been buried in the basilica’s crypt. His body was moved at his canonization.
Notice anything peculiar about these shots?
Why, I ask, is his zucchetto on the altar?!?
In a way, it’s emblematic.