Benedict XVI’s Letter to the Polish Church for the 100th Birthday of St. John Paul II

Benedict XVI wrote a letter about the 100th birthday of St. John Paul II.  The Polish Bishops Conference put it on their site in Polish and English.   The National Catholic Register has it HERE.

This part struck me.

In his 14 Encyclicals, he comprehensively presented the faith of the Church and its teaching in a human way. By doing this, he inevitably sparked contradiction in Church of the West, clouded by doubt and uncertainty.

It seems important today to define the true centre, from the perspective of which we can read the message contained in the various texts. We could have noticed it at the hour of his death. Pope John Paul II died in the first moments of the newly established Feast of Divine Mercy. Let me first add a brief personal remark that seems an important aspect of the Pope’s nature and work. From the very beginning, John Paul II was deeply touched by the message of Faustina Kowalska, a nun from Kraków, who emphasized Divine Mercy as an essential center of the Christian faith. She had hoped for the establishment of such a feast day. After consultation, the Pope chose the Second Sunday of Easter. However, before the final decision was made, he asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to express its view on the appropriateness of this date. We responded negatively because such an ancient, traditional and meaningful date like the Sunday “in Albis” concluding the Octave of Easter should not be burdened with modern ideas. It was certainly not easy for the Holy Father to accept our reply. Yet, he did so with great humility and accepted our negative response a second time. Finally, he formulated a proposal that left the Second Sunday of Easter in its historical form but included Divine Mercy in its original message. There have often been similar cases in which I was impressed by the humility of this great Pope, who abandoned ideas he cherished because he could not find the approval of the official organs that must be asked according established norms.

When John Paul II took his last breaths on this world, the prayer of the First Vespers of the Feast of Divine Mercy had just ended. This illuminated the hour of his death: the light of God’s mercy stands as a comforting message over his death. […]


Throughout his life, the Pope sought to subjectively appropriate the objective center of Christian faith, the doctrine of salvation, and to help others to make it theirs. Through the resurrected Christ, God’s mercy is intended for every individual. Although this center of Christian existence is given to us only in faith, it is also philosophically significant, because if God’s mercy were not a fact, then we would have to find our way in a world where the ultimate power of good against evil is not recognizable. It is finally, beyond this objective historical significance, indispensable for everyone to know that in the end God’s mercy is stronger than our weakness.


And, see if you agree after reading the last part of Benedict’s letter, he seems to arguing that John Paul II should be named “the Great” in a formal way, as many people have argued.

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  1. Ferretti says:

    After reading his argument as to for “The Great”, I’ve been persuaded. He fills the criteria as laid out by Benedetto, so I agree, enthusiastically. But surely, I can also see many others in the past, who would fit the bill according to other criteria of what rises up to “Great”. I think BXVI saw much in JPII that is inexpressible. I defer to Benedict as a future Doctor of the Faith, but surely not to exclude other magnificent Popes.

  2. Geoffrey says:

    I read this first thing this morning and thought it terrific. Granted, I have a great devotion to Saint John Paul the Great, so I may be biased. One thing that jumped out at me was this:

    “There have often been similar cases in which I was impressed by the humility of this great Pope, who abandoned ideas he cherished because he could not find the approval of the official organs that must be asked according established norms…”

    I am waiting for Catholic media pundits to say this was a veiled critique of Pope Francis. St John Paul wished he could change the Church’s teaching on capital punishment, but was humble enough to know that he could not. Instead, he worked within the Church’s tradition: capital punishment is a legitimate right of the state, however in this day and age, the reasons for its use are rare if not non-existent. Brilliant!

    Meanwhile, Pope Francis seemed to ignore the very Word of God (Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium) and by saying that capital punishment is and was always wrong, even editing the Catechism of the Catholic Church to say that… the very catechism promulgated by St John Paul the Great, mind you. Ridiculous!

    Regarding the title of “magnus”, Pope Benedict XVI says that in the cases of Leo I and Gregory I, “the word ‘great’ has a political connotation, but precisely because something of the mystery of God himself becomes visible through their political success.”

    It seems to me that Benedict XVI did not weigh too heavily into whether or not St John Paul II should be known as “the Great”, though he does say: “If we compare both stories [Leo I and Gregory I] with that of John Paul II, the similarity is unmistakable. John Paul II also had no military or political power.”

    Given his tremendous influence in helping to bring down atheistic communism in Europe, St John Paul II should definitely be acclaimed “magnus”.

    Sancte Ioannes Paule Magne, ora pro nobis, ora pro Ecclesia, ora pro mundi!

  3. I am waiting for Catholic media pundits to say this was a veiled critique of Pope Francis.

    Christopher Altieri says precisely that, over at the Catholic Herald.

  4. TRW says:

    Here is a truly amazing story I read about a few years ago. St. Faustina recorded in her diary the contents of a vision she experienced in 1937 that seems to have included her witnessing the future celebration of the Feast of Divine Mercy at the Vatican on April 30th, 2000.
    Her canonization and the Feast of Divine Mercy were celebrated simultaneously in both Rome and at St. Faustina’s convent in Poland.
    ” In both locations, large screen televisions were set up for a simulcast – with live images shared simultaneously by those celebrating.”

    In her diary, St. Faustina describes the following mystical experience, which clearly left her puzzled.

    “Suddenly, God’s presence took hold of me, and at once I saw myself in Rome, in the Holy Father’s chapel and at the same time I was in our chapel. And the celebration of the Holy Father and the entire Church was closely connected with our chapel and, in a very special way, with our Congregation. And I took part in the solemn celebration simultaneously here and in Rome, for the celebration was so closely connected with Rome that, even as I write, I cannot distinguish the two but I am writing it down as I saw it. “

  5. TonyO says:

    I think that JPII was without doubt great in some very important ways. I have myself called him “the Great” on occasion. And yet he was not so great in a few other ways. Benedict says “the word ‘great’ has a political connotation, but precisely because something of the mystery of God himself becomes visible through their political success.”

    To refine that, I think that one way to look at it is that Leo preserved the very center of the Church herself from a dire emergency. If Attila had sacked Rome and destroyed it, would the Apostolic See even have survived? No way to know, but maybe not. From that perspective: Europe as a whole was under threat from the Soviet barbarians, and JPII (with his pal Ronald Reagan) defused the danger. This was a great achievement, especially in that it was done without any war.

    At the same time, the core of the faith of the Church was under a dire threat from the modernists and relativists. In his great encyclicals, (especially Veritatis Splendor), JPII directed a solid campaign against their errors.

    On the other hand, he almost adamantly refused to use any of the OTHER tools in the Church’s armory against the heretics and agitators, and as a result, there remained (and still remains) a vast swathe of error and bad teaching that utterly ignores everything he put in those encyclicals, continuing to be taught in the Church as if JPII never condemned those errors. He made no effective move to end the nonsense of the Jesuits; he made no move to reform the process by which new bishops are selected, and as a result his appointment of bishops (and cardinals) has put us in the extraordinarily un-enviable position that we are in now: that a majority of cardinals would willingly go along with the st. gallen mafia to wrangle a vote for the papacy.

    At the same time as all this was going on, the Church was also undergoing the strain from the unprudently imposed Novus Ordo, and the response by SSPX and others desiring the old Mass. JPII had 10 years in which to make a definitive “yes” to Archbishop Lefevre about the right to say the old Mass, which he declined to do, before the disobedient consecration of bishops. He had 26 years in which to make effective the hopes he expressed in Ecclesia Dei that bishops would grant broad and generous permission, which never really happened under his watch – it took Benedict only 2 years to issue SP and fix that mess. He had 26 years to recognize and act on the need to reform the reform of the NO Mass, and never managed to address that.

    We remain under a grave, dire threat to the Church, and there is no clear view of how we will put it behind us. Perhaps JPII’s papacy will, in 20 or 50 years, be recognized as having laid down all the necessary ingredients to turn the Church around away from the current crisis into a period of smoother sailing. If that happens, that would be the time to unequivocally confirm his status as “JPII the Great”. Let’s wait and watch a bit. Give it some time: let some history pass before we make the judgment.

  6. Gaetano says:

    I echo Pope Benedict’s sentiments. Pope John Paul did much good, and not everyone remembers how bad a situation he inherited.
    Sadly, some people, especially those in the trad community, reflexively dwell on Assisi to attack his papacy.

  7. Semper Gumby says:

    Thank you Fr. Z and commenters. At CWR over the last week or so George Weigel has three articles on St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

    “Shortly after the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2, 2005, Henry Kissinger told NBC News that it would be difficult to imagine anyone having had a greater impact on the twentieth century than the Polish priest and bishop who, on the night of his election in 1978, had described himself as a man called to Rome “from a far country.” Kissinger’s assessment was all the more striking in that the former U.S. secretary of state – himself a consequential figure in modern history – had no religious or philosophical stake in the life, thought, and action of Karol Józef Wojty?a.” – The Soul of Pope St. John Paul II

  8. DeGaulle says:

    With respect to the Assisi event, Father Hunwicke clarifies it in his blog today, a fine post on the combined pontificates of St John Paul II and Benedict, by quoting the preconditions laid down by JPII at the very beginning-

    ‘The fact that we have come here does not imply any intention of seeking a religious consensus among ourselves or of negotiating our faith convictions. Neither does it mean that religions can be reconciled at the level of a common commitment in an earthly project that would surpass them all. Nor is it a concession to relativism in religious beliefs’.

    I think this statement speaks for itself and should provide the context for debating what happened in Assisi. In the light of this statement, the infamous kissing of the Koran can represent nothing more than a gesture of affection.

  9. Semper Gumby says:

    TonyO: Good points. Nothing wrong with waiting 20 or 50 years, particularly given the combination of hyperactivity and inactivity from the Hierarchy since, say, Vatican II. That said, God bless St. John Paul II.

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