The late great John Paul II passed away two years ago this evening. My family and I had the very fortunate opportunity to greet the late pontiff in Feb. of 2001. Once we found out that handicapped people, people in wheelchairs, automatically get to go up and greet the pope after his general audience we couldn’t get to Rome fast enough. My middle sister and I were able to greet him after the wednesday audience on Feb. 14 and a few days later the rest of my family, my parents and my younger sister, received a special invitation, at the request of a dear priest friend of ours, to greet him with a group of people after his daily Mass (I will post all of their pictures below).
He is now referred to as John Paul the Great, but I will always know him simply as JPII. No doubt he was a great and magnificent world/religious leader, but to some of us who grew up under his pontificate, he was also a gentle and humble shepherd who seemed as close and personal to us as our own fathers.
For me the greatest legacy he left us was a blueprint from which to build a culture of life. There are a number of ways in which a culture of life must be built. First, quite obviously, is recognition and respect for the unique dignity of the human person. Theology of the Body is John Paul’s vision of the human person and what it means to be made in the “image and likeness of God.” In it he encourages a true reverence for the gift of our sexuality and challenges us to live it in a way worthy of our great dignity as human persons (from the TOB website). The incomparable worth of every human being, he points out in Evangelium Vitae, is revealed in the incarnation. When the Son of God came to earth and took on human form, he came that we might have life (Jn. 10:10)! “Thus the deepest element of God’s commandment to protect human life is the requirement to show reverence and love for every person and the life of every person.” This includes loving the life of a criminal, which he showed by visiting and forgiving the man who tried to kill him.
The culture of life depends upon an increase in Christian families. Many of the problems in our society stem from the breakdown of the family. In Familiaris Consortio, John Paul recognizes the “precious value of marriage and of the family“, especially when it comes to educating the essential values of human life. The family is the “first vital cell of society” and by embracing the plan of God for marriage and family, Christian families will contribute to the “renewal of society and of the People of God.”
Finally, a culture that respects all human life must also have a joyful acceptance of human suffering. As we saw with the starvation of Terri Schiavo and many cases like hers, our society has a great disdain for human suffering which leads to the tragic death and outright murder of people whose lives are considered worthless. We can counter this by following the example of JPII whose physical health gradually deteriorated after the gun shot wound that almost took his life. Despite the obvious pain and suffering that came with his sickness, the pope never let it slow him down. Even in his final days, when his health was at its worst, he struggled to be in front of the faithful.
JPII was a great leader in the fight against the culture of death. Hopefully we will learn from his example and work to advance the culture of life with the same enthusiasm as the late pontiff. JPII, WE LOVE YOU!
My family with JPII: