Expectations and hopes of the Church and Europe regarding the Great Jubilee in the teachings of Pope John Paul II - Henryk Muszylski
Jubilee 2000 Search


Archbishop Henryk Muszynski
Metropolitan of Gniezno Poland

Speaking of realities such as Europe, the Church, the Great Jubilee and the teachings of the Pope, we must begin by referring to their common denominator: the Second Vatican Council, which gave rise to a new springtime of the Church.
Today, as it was affirmed in one of the recent dossiers on the Jubilee, the Council is seen as a door to the Great Jubilee. The conciliar Constitution Gaudium et Spes introduced in fact a new way of understanding the relation Church/world, filled with greater trust and love. If we are able to see the old continent of Europe as a significant part of the world, we will then understand what the Council and the mentioned document have become for Europe. The Constitution, of which we speak, saw the full participation in the work of the Council of Mgr Karol Wojtyla, then archbishop of Krakow. This fact sends the reader to the contents, which are the motto of the considerations which follow.

The links uniting these considerations can be two dates and two homilies by Pope John Paul II. On June 3rd 1979, at the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Gniezno during the first memorable pilgrimage to Poland, referring to the event of the baptism of many Slav peoples, the Holy Father said: "Does Christ not wish, does the Holy Spirit not desire that this Polish Pope, this Slav Pope should at this moment make manifest the spiritual unity of Christian Europe? We know that the unity of Europe is composed of two great traditions: one of the West and one of the East". To this fact, to this text, in which he expressed almost a programme for his pontificate, Pope John Paul II referred to eighteen years later, on June 3rd 1997, once again in Gniezno.

"From this place there was, at that time, an out-pouring of the power of the Holy Spirit. Here the idea of a new evangelization began to assume concrete form. In the meantime great transformations have come about, new possibilities have appeared, new men have risen. Gone is the wall that divided Europe. Fifty years after the beginning of the Second World War its effects have ceased to mar the face of our continent. An end has been put to half a century of separation for which millions of the people of Central and Eastern Europe paid a terrible price".

I listened to both homilies, but only the Holy Father’s direct reference to the contents of eighteen years ago enabled me to understand, firstly, how prophetic those words were, and secondly, that they have become the concrete programme of Pope John Paul II, who today, with a position already so advanced, is leading the Church into the third millennium. The question we ask ourselves in this reflection concerns the hopes of the Church and of Europe, seen in the context of those homilies and also in the prospective of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, which advances with great strides.

"Hope that we see, is no longer hope". We have a Europe that breathes with two lungs: one of the east and one of the west. No more is the wall that divided them and which represented the wall of hostility. Freedom has returned practically under every aspect. Already the spaces of this freedom have revealed themselves to be barren land, in need of cultivating. But in the face of the difficulties and lack of preparation to receive it, this gift, this freedom, has for many become "an unhappy gift", just as in the Old Testament such was that of the Israelites after they were led out of slavery in Egypt.
Together with the Berlin wall – which remains a symbol of diversification of values, thought and consequently of divisions – there fell a totalitarian order of a hierarchy of values, existing not only in the reality of Europe, but also in that of the whole world.

This order was so deeply rooted in the mentioned reality that its decline revealed itself to be a wound, or better, numerous wounds. To heal these wounds has become a most urgent task. The idea of class struggle was the principal force of communism. Today we are all returning to the ideas of the Gospel. In the mentioned homilies, the Holy Father spoke of the necessity for new evangelization. If that programme was antagonism, division, hatred, precisely these "anti-values" were to constitute a particular "propelling motor" of history. Today they must make way for the idea of love and of solidarity which are returning and which the Gospel renders concrete. Considering, nevertheless, the lack of brilliant examples of the realization of these ideas in history, on the threshold of the third millennium we are called to "return to the sources" and therefore to a re-reading of the Good News as inspiration and spiritual force also for Europe and for the people of the years bridging the 20th and the 21st centuries.

Evangelization, which has become the goal of this pontificate "bridging two millenniums", in the Pope’s concept, is the duty of every baptized person – it is both a privilege and a duty. The totalitarian system, under this aspect too, was of no help. On the one hand it declared tolerance, liberty and equality for all religions, while on the other it insisted that religion should be a private affair, and evangelization was restricted to the church and the sacristy. Hence the need for every member of the Church to re-discover his or her own place in this community, and also the profundity of ecclesiology, since man will always be a religious being. Man, educated or grown up in the atmosphere of the Christian Latin culture, accepts, appreciates and respects Christ, even if he has not always the courage to welcome him as Lord and Saviour. Very often, however, today’s Christian fails to understand the Church and sees her as an institution which cannot be identified with Jesus and his Gospel. Consequently he does not understand the need in this day and age for the Church to exist and to function. Pope John Paul II in his teaching clearly indicates the importance of this problem. The first words of his pontificate were: "Do not be afraid to open the doors to the Redeemer". The first encyclical was entitled: Redemptor hominis – Man’s redeemer- and spoke solely of the person of the Saviour. While many parts of the mentioned second homily at Gniezno, delivered at the end of the 19th year of his pontificate, refer to the event of the descent of the Holy Spirit, to the reality of the Upper Room and the original conscience of the Church.

The Holy Father, in his teaching, has always exposed the thesis that all external processes, even in their international or intercontinental dimensions, in effect have their beginnings in the heart of man. This was also the title of one of his messages for World Peace Day: "Peace in the world is born in the heart of man". The inward life and heart of man have become, we could say, the focal point for Pope John Paul II, both in the measure of diagnosis of the source of evil, of divisions of conflict, and for the hope linked with them. In the message in question, in 1980, the Pope said something which later Hans Jakob Stehl took as the motto of his book on the Holy See’s Eastern European policy and which assembles the facts at the basis of the fall of the Berlin wall: "Truth does not allow us to doubt the enemy. The man of peace inspired by truth does not identify the enemy with the error into which he has fallen". This thought always constitutes the foundation for the Pope’s call for conversion of the inner man and for the formation of his inward life. Not without significance is the fact that the problem of the spirituality of Europe and of Europeans has become an immense task in the context of the Old Continent which is uniting also in political and cultural structures. Pope John Paul II links this to the call for a renewed appreciation of the Eucharist, both for its effect on "the heart of man" and for the aspect which creates communities. The Eucharist, breaking and changing the inward life and the heart, is able at the same time to unite all peoples, all continents and the world. Proof of this are exposed by the Holy Father through Eucharistic Congresses and also – in as far as "the future of the world and of the Church" – through the World Youth Days.

Europe breathes through the East and through the West. In this context we have before our eyes the problem of promoting the unity of Christians, understood not only as religious, but also political and cultural categories. The Latin West must begin to draw from the Byzantine East and vice versa. Under the religious aspect, the year of the Holy Spirit, which has just begun, constitutes a great opportunity for a "theological exchange of gifts". These are the new expectations and the new hopes. The Holy Father rejoices and thanks God for the inestimable gifts during almost twenty years. On the other hand he is aware of the new challenges, the expectations for which he has great hope. May we conclude these reflections with another passage of the homily in Gniezno last year:
"Could it be that after the fall of one wall, a visible one, we discover another, an invisible one that continues to divide our continent – the wall which passes through the hearts of people? This wall is made of fear and violence, of lack of understanding for people of different origin, with a different skin colour, with a different religion; it is the wall of political and economic egoism, of a weakening of sensitivity for the value of human life and the dignity of every person. Even the undoubted successes of recent times in the economic, political and social fields cannot hide the existence of this wall. Its shadow extends across the whole of Europe. The goal of authentic unity for the European continent is still far away. There can be no unity of Europe unless this is founded on unity of Spirit…
…eighteen years on, I repeat the same concept: we need to be resolute in order to know and understand the message of the Gospel in our age, but we also need the power of the Holy Spirit in order to put into practice day after day, the truth we have grasped".