A Ministry of Love. Twenty years later

It is not with ease that our minds remember 1978. The passing of time gives us the impression of advancing faster than the years that actually separate us from the intense moments of then. No doubt, 1978 was a singular year. After the death of Pope Paul VI, who gave a testimony of faith and love and had the responsibility of guiding the Barque of Peter from 1963 to the 6 th of August of that year, came the appointment, twenty days later, of Cardinal Albino Luciani. With the name of John Paul I he carried out the Petrine ministry until the 28 th of September. The Smiling Pope left us with a clear legacy: It is possible to be a Christian today! Amidst a growing secularization, the simplicity, joy and faith of Pope Luciani constituted a vitalizing announcement to the believing world.

Cardinal Wojtyla

After the white smoke that signaled the election of a new successor of St. Peter , came the announcement: ” Habemus Papam”. He was Karol Wojtyla, a son of Poland . He was born on the 18 th of May of 1920, and became an orphan of his mother at the age of 9. His father, following a military career, educated him with a style that integrated austerity, a profound religious sense and paternal affection. When he was 21 years old his father died. This reality affects him profoundly and causes him to reflect on the meaning and transitory nature of existence.

In 1938 he enters the university, but then must leave due to the Nazi invasion of Poland . He then works as a manual laborer at the Solvay factory. During the free time between his labors he participates in rhapsodic theatrical representations and recitation, and spends time writing poetry. These were a very serious issue since they were clandestine meetings prohibited by the Nazis. Already around this time he seeks to help the Jews escape from the horrendous Nazi persecution.

The group reunions promoted by the priest Jan Mazarski and the layman Jan Tyranoski were a good space for the deepening of faith of the young Wojtyla. At these reunions he familiarized himself with asceticism and spirituality through the work of father Tanquerey, Don Bosco , as well as with the Carmelite mystics. His reflections guided him in 1942 to the conviction that the Lord called him to be a priest.

He then enters the clandestine Seminary of Krakow encouraged by Archbishop Sapieha . He works during the day; then, when he is finished, he takes courses on philosophy and theology. The 1 st of November of 1946 he is ordained a priest. Afterwards he travels to the Angelicum , in Rome , to conclude his studies in theology. In 1948 he obtains his doctorate on a thesis about St. John of the Cross. Already there we can see some of the first manifestations of the existential or personalistic Thomism of which he will soon become a brilliant exponent.

When he returns to Poland , he spends his time working in a parish and teaching religion in several schools. Three years later he returns to university to study philosophy, presenting a thesis on the philosophy of Max Scheler . At that point Father Wojtyla ‘s renewed Thomism demonstrates an assimilation of a personalist existentialism open to transcendence, as well as phenomenological perspectives. This is a new synthesis which at a certain moment will be identified with a sector of the members of the University of Lublin . The work he will publish later on, Person and act, is a mature expression of this philosophical school.

His accomplishments as the Chair of Ethics and Moral Theology at the universities of Lublin and Krakow achieve a very high academic standard. Here we find the seeds of the evangelization of culture of which he will later insist on so emphatically. His labor on catechetical education centered on the idea that the adherence to faith must be made concrete on a daily basis seals his pastoral labor, which he exercises incessantly. He shared his hunger of infinity with enthusiasm, encouraging others to live by this daily.

Several works and publications signpost the passing of the years. Among them Love and responsibility stands out. Meanwhile, in 1958 he is consecrated as Bishop, and later on as Archbishop of Krakow. In 1967 he is created Cardinal by Pope Paul VI . His battle for the freedom of the Church with respect to the communist oppression is a constant concern which achieves a symbolic expression in the construction of the temple of Nova Huta . His pastoral work in Poland and his participation in the Vatican Council II have been widely studied, especially his intervention in the editing committee of the Gaudium et spes Constitution.

H.H. John Paul II

“Praised be Jesus Christ!” were his first words pronounced in St. Peter ‘s Square while he appeared before the People of God and the world. He said he came “from a far-away country… far, but always near in the communion of faith and the Christian tradition”. It was the 16 th of October of 1978.

The following day, at the Sistine Chapel he rapidly outlined some ‘programmatic orientations’. “First of all, we wish to point out the unceasing importance of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, and we accept the definite duty of assiduously bringing it into affect.” In this sense we can see the development of the present pontificate as a constant effort to bring forth the authentic reforms of the Council, inviting those who cling on stubbornly to external forms while neglecting the contents to change their views, while forewarning those who have misinterpreted the aggiornamento succumbing to secularism in one or many of its expressions and dissipating their identity as sons and daughters of the Church. After twenty years of pontificate the Council remains as a horizon and path to be traversed by the People of God facing the third millennium of Faith. The encyclical Fides et ratio can easily be situated among these coordinates of renovation and fidelity.

The ecclesiological theme also occupies the Pope’s attention: “it is necessary for us to take once again into our hands the ‘Magna Carta’ of the Council, that is, the Dogmatic Constitution ‘Lumen Gentium’, so that with renewed and invigorating zeal we may meditate on the nature and function of the Church, its way of being and acting” . In this setting he spoke of the “the special bond, that is, collegiality, which ‘with Peter and under Peter’ binds together the sacred Pastors”. A proper ecumenism, the pursuit of justice, peace, liberty, the primacy of what’s moral, spiritual and religious as the base of the construction of a new society, the Gospel as the motivation of everything, the perspective parting from the Gaudium et spes , the charitable attention towards the weak, poor, and afflicted, and the theology of pain related to the Passion of the Redeemer are traits that we have seen crystallized once and again yet were seen as seeds among these outlines in 1978.

In that occasion we see the Pope define the supreme function which he has been called as one of fidelity, “to preserve intact the deposit of faith, because we make entirely our own the commands of Christ, who, after Peter was made the rock on which the Church was built, gave him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, who bade him strengthened his brethren, and to feed the sheep and the lambs of his flock as a proof of his love.”

Pope John Paul II emphasized in this way the fundamental coordinates in which he has been exercising his Petrine ministry. And at the same time he stressed the fatigueless character with which we have seen him announce the Gospel throughout the globe. He says, “this high office must always be related to love as the source from which it is nourished and as it were the climate in which it can be expanded”. That is why he emphatically says, “we want our ministry to be from the outset a ministry of love, and want to show and declare this in every possible way”.

The trust and filial devotion to the Virgin Mary, the fidelity to his supreme mission, and the exercise of his mission characterized by love have been fundamental characteristics within these twenty years. The fidelity he proclaimed the 17 th of October is recognized in his teachings and in the encouragement given to the sons and daughters of the Church to be faithful, to be coherent with the faith. Since then, John Paul II’s invitation, on the 22 nd of October of 1978, during the inauguration of his pontificate, resonates ardorously: “Do not be afraid to welcome Christ and to accept His authority! … To his saving power open the boundaries of State, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not to be afraid!”

(*) Notice: This newspaper article was first published on October 23 nd 1998. It has been translated from Spanish. The author has not looked over the translation.



Notice: This article has been translated from Spanish. The author has not looked over the translation.

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