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Third Sunday of Easter, 10 April 2005


The Lord Jesus, risen from the dead, became the travelling companion of the two disciples who were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus: we might make a bold comparison and say that our deeply beloved Pope, "who came from far away", became the travelling companion of Christians of Rome for over 26 years.

Today, while we are stunned and filled with sorrow by the demise of John Paul II but also confident and joyful at the certainty of his presence in a new, mysterious and luminous way, we might ask ourselves how John Paul II managed to be so close to us and touch so deeply the hearts of the people of Rome, but also of the Italians and of so many citizens of the world.

The true answer is simple and significant:  he was and continues to be for everyone a brother and father, because he was a man of God who lived constantly in God's presence, closely united with him and trusting totally in his infinite mercy.

Our Pope, therefore, was first and foremost a man of prayer, and he spent most of his time and energy praying. He identified with Jesus Christ and configured himself to the Priesthood of Christ so that he could say: "Holy Mass is absolutely the centre of my life and of all my days".

He was totally consecrated to Mary; and he proved how authentic this consecration was when, on awakening from the anaesthetic after his tracheotomy, he wrote immediately: "To Mary... I once again entrust myself: Totus Tuus!" [totally yours: the Pope's motto].

Yet this extraordinary closeness to God did not distance him from us earthly, sinful people, nor did it envelop him in an atmosphere of remote holiness.

On the contrary, John Paul II was a real man who fully enjoyed and appreciated the savour of life:  from the beauty of art, poetry and nature to the vigour of sport, from philosophical and theological thought to the courage required to take the most demanding decisions.

Through him, therefore, we felt the Lord truly close to us. We realized in a certain way that God does not dwell in inaccessible regions but is the Lord of life and wants to be the centre of our lives.

Moreover, our Pope wrote in his first Encyclical Redemptor Hominis that man is "the primary and fundamental way for the Church", explaining that "we are not dealing with the "abstract' man, but the real, "concrete', "historical' man... in the full truth of his existence, of his personal community and social being" (Redemptor Hominis, nn. 13, 14).

John Paul II showed in many ways, to us Romans in particular, what it meant to him, Bishop and Pastor, for man to be the primary way of the Church. It is right and also a pleasure, at this point, to recall them.

First of all, how could we forget his Pastoral Visits to 130 parishes of Rome? Personally, I cannot forget the insistence, not to say anxiety, with which he would ask me: "When are we going to visit the parishes?"

This insistence and concern were gradually to increase as his health deteriorated. When he could no longer visit the parishes in person, he wished to receive another 16 parish communities in the Vatican. Even last January, he was planning to receive as soon as possible the remaining 16 of the 333 parishes of Rome:  a desire that he took with him when he entered into the joy of the Lord.

As well as visiting the parishes, he visited hospitals:  he paid these visits every year, as long as he himself could go to the patients' bedside. Nor did he give up meeting the sick in wheelchairs who came to him in this Basilica of St Peter's for the 11 February celebrations [World Day of the Sick].

Each year his visit to the Roman Seminary on the eve of the Feast of Our Lady of Trust gave him heartfelt joy. And his meeting with the clergy of Rome on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday was also a joyful, friendly moment, as were his lunches with the parish priests and parochial vicars a few days before visiting the parishes.

Another appointment he never missed and very much looked forward to was the Mass for the University students that he would preside at here in St Peter's a few days before Christmas, and likewise, the meeting with the young people of Rome on the Thursday before Palm Sunday to draw greater benefit from the diocesan dimension of World Youth Day.

Furthermore, let us not forget that John Paul II was the Pope who wanted to visit the many Roman Universities systematically.

So it was that every day he lived his ministry as Bishop of Rome, putting into practice his own words to the priests of Rome on 9 November 1978, soon after his election: "I am deeply aware of having become Pope of the universal Church, because of being Bishop of Rome. The ministry... of the Bishop of Rome, as Peter's Successor, is the root of universality" (L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 16 November 1978, p. 3, n. 1).

If we then look at his principal instructions and pastoral initiatives, we can say that the Diocese of Rome not only deeply benefited from the universal magisterium of its Bishop, but also received from him certain specific, fundamental instructions for events, two of which were particularly important:  the Diocesan Synod and the City Mission.

The Synod was convoked in 1986 and ended in 1993. Indeed, as John Paul II had explicitly desired, the Synod subsequently became in the life of the Diocese a great practical training ground for the ecclesiology of communion of the Second Vatican Council. The Diocese of Rome stands particularly in need of this communion because of the great variety and wealth of people and charisms that exist side by side within it.

The Synod then developed in a fruitful and innovative way in the City Mission. It was on 8 December 1995 that the Pope asked the Church of Rome to launch this Mission, "in order to prepare the hearts of the inhabitants to welcome the grace of the Holy Year and to find again in their faith in Jesus Christ and in the wealth of life and culture that springs from it the reasons for the particular task entrusted to the Eternal City in relation to the entire world" (ORE, 13 December 1995, n. 2, p. 5).

It was not merely a "mission to the people", although it extended to the whole city, but rather, of the "People of God in mission"; in fact, the parishes, religious communities, associations and movements endeavoured for three years to be missionaries to Rome's families and to the various milieus of work and life by means of the direct commitment of a great number of lay people beside the priests, women religious and deacons.

Dear brothers and sisters of this Church of Rome, the mission is, as it were, the Pastoral Testament that John Paul II has entrusted to his Diocese:  let us remember what he said about parishes and the Church, which must seek and find themselves outside themselves, wherever people live. This is the Church which he wanted, and which today he continues to ask us to be and to live:  a Church which has not withdrawn into herself, a Church neither timid, nor disheartened, a Church that burns with the love of Christ for the salvation of every person.

Let us now attempt to delve more deeply into his Bishop's and Father's heart in order to penetrate it. His words on taking possession of his Cathedral, the Basilica of St John Lateran, on 12 November 1978, can help us.

John Paul II identified in the commandment of love the essential content of his own ministry, by recalling the marvellous assertion of Jesus: "As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love" (Jn 15: 9). And the Pope continued: "Love constructs; only love constructs!" (ORE, 23 November 1978, n. 4, p. 7).

The disciples of Emmaus asked the Risen Jesus, whom they had not yet recognized: "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent". This evening we feel in our own hearts an overwhelming need to ask this Pope to "Stay with us". And we well know that he truly remains with us.

But we also know the only way in which we will really be able to stay with him, and that is, not only emotionally and superficially. It is the way to remain, each one of us personally and the whole Church of Rome, all together in the love of the Lord, that love which is nourished by faith and daily obedience to his will and especially to his commandment, "Love one another as I have loved you" (cf. Jn 15: 12).

In his suffering and death and throughout his life, Pope John Paul II was an extraordinarily effective witness and preacher of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead; he resembled the Apostles Peter and Paul, whose great Christian and human legacy he inherited.

Therefore, the days of mourning and of the funeral rites, for Rome and for the entire world, became days of extraordinary unity, of hearts open to God and to reconciliation. This unity was possible because the Pope had kept them firmly together and had shown the entire world with his whole life the integrity of faith in Christ and the universality of the love of Christ himself, who offered himself on the Cross for us all.

We Romans have received the gift of being direct witnesses of these events of grace and of being able to collaborate with them. We wholeheartedly thank the Lord and as we pray for our great Pope, let us entrust ourselves especially to his prayers, that we may become livelier and better members of that Church which, down the centuries, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is still living and renewing herself as the Bride of Christ and our gentile Mother.

We should await our new Bishop and Pope in the light of this same Spirit. Let us not be pointlessly and too humanly curious to know beforehand who he will be. Let us prepare ourselves instead to welcome in prayer, trust and love, the one whom the Lord chooses to give us.

While I renew our gratitude to God for this Pope who broke the Eucharistic Bread with us and for us for 26 years, let us also thank our Sister Church of Krakow and the beloved Polish Nation which gave life, faith and wonderful Christian and human riches to John Paul II, Karol Wojtyła, so that he might give them to Rome and to the whole world.