The Gift of Blessed John Paul II

Pope John Paul II raises the Eucharist during the celebration of Mass in St. Louis during his last visit to the United States in January of 1999. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

With Catholics around the world, I rejoiced at Pope Francis’s announcement that Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II will be canonized on April 27, 2014 – Divine Mercy Sunday.

Both popes in their own way helped bring Jesus to the modern world – with Pope John XXIII opening the Second Vatican Council, and Pope John Paul II traveling the world to share the Good News of the Gospel with millions of people.

Today, the Feast Day of Blessed John Paul II, I will celebrate a Mass at the Archdiocese of Washington’s Blessed John Paul II Seminary that also marks the second anniversary of the seminary’s dedication. The seminary is now filled to capacity, with 28 seminarians living there and studying nearby at The Catholic University of America. The seminary is expanding, with a new wing under construction that will have 20 additional seminarian rooms. Those seminarians, and all of the archdiocese’s 80 seminarians, are a great sign of hope for the Church, since they are studying to be our next generation of priests.  Like their patron saint, Pope John Paul II, these men are preparing to meet people where they are and bring them Christ’s love and hope.

I was blessed to be in Rome in 1978 and see the new Pope John Paul II first appear at the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica, and later to hear him say in his first homily, “Open wide the doors for Christ… Do not be afraid.” That invitation to open wide our hearts to Christ was a central message of his nearly 27-year papacy.

Blessed John Paul II touched my life and ministry in a special way. He ordained me as a bishop in 1986 at Saint Peter’s Basilica, and he gave me a miter that he had used on a pastoral visit to Holland. I pray that in my own teaching ministry, I might emulate that great pope in bringing the beauty and truth of the teaching of Christ to this local Church.

History remembers how John Paul II’s spiritual leadership helped bring courage to Eastern Europeans as they dismantled the Iron Curtain and gained freedom for their countries. But that great pope knew, and preached, that the true source of our freedom is Jesus, who repeatedly told his disciples, then and now, “be not afraid” and promised he would be with them always (Matthew 28:20).

Blessed John Paul II encouraged the world’s Catholics to take up the work of the New Evangelization, to deepen their faith, and to share it with others, with the same courage, boldness and joy that the first disciples showed as they brought the Good News to the world. Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus called his disciples in every age to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). Now is our moment, now is our time, to take up this great commission.

How fitting it is that Blessed John Paul II is the patron of World Youth Day, which he began and brought to nearly every continent of the world. In every papal trip, the former college professor and chaplain always made it a point to meet, pray with and challenge young people to be Jesus’ disciples in today’s world and bring Christ to their homes, schools, workplaces and communities. On October 24, I will celebrate a special Mass for the archdiocese’s Catholic young adults at Saint Augustine Church in Washington, and offer that same invitation to them.

Next spring, I plan on joining the large crowd at the canonization of this great pope who opened wide his heart to Christ and invited us to do the same. At our seminary back here at home, we will happily change the sign out front to honor our new Saint John Paul II.