Twenty years ago

The world was eager, waiting for the appearance of white smoke that should sprout in some moment from the chimney of the Conclave. In October 16th 1978 the people in Saint Peter’s square were moved. As an expanding tide, the joy in sight of the event was transmitted to the whole world by the media. The appearance of Cardinal Pericle Felici ended the waiting: “Habemus Papam”. Thus was announced Saint Peter’s 264th successor, the Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow.

Fifteen minutes later an image that would become extremely familiar to millions in all the continents appeared to the world. “Praised be Jesus Christ”, were his first words. “I have been called from a distant land, distant but always near in the communion of the Faith and the Christian Tradition”, said the man dressed with a white robe that appeared in the Vatican’s balcony. “And thus I present myself before you all to confess our common faith, our hope, our faith in the Mother of Christ and the Church.”

Under the motto “Totus Tuus”, symbol of his Marian Consecration, the successor of Saint Stanislaw, patron saint of the Poles, acceded to Peter’s See. He was a first rate intellectual, who contributed decisively to a renewed version of Thomism. It assimilates some elements of phenomenology. He is a man with a very deep spiritual life. He also loves sports and nature. The former Archbishop of Krakow has been a survivor of the Nazi persecution, a defender of the rights of the Church in front of the communist dictatorship, and a champion of the rights of the workers. His very personal style could be seen from the first moment. It is a style that has become familiar along the twenty years of his fruitful pontificate.

His energetic image has made present the voice of the Church on the most delicate topics. John Paul II is guiding the ship of the Church like a skillful pilot. On the eve of the twentieth anniversary as Successor of Peter he has desired to give one more example of his love to the Church and to the human being. He has made public a new encyclical: “Fides et ratio”. In it he raises his voice in defense of the human being’s reason. His clear option for the human person, is expressed in the new encyclical in a defense of the scope of reason opened to the truth that comes from God.

In our Continent, when visiting Puebla, few months after his election as Pope, he affirmed with Saint Hilary: “I speak the truth, so that all may know the cause of the disorientation we are suffering. I can not stay silent”. And he has done so. Raising his voice to announce the truth and at the same time pointing out the errors in the understanding of faith. He has tried to clarify the serious abuses that threaten the life, dignity and the rights of the human being. “Faith and reason” is like a synthesis of perspectives in which the force of the teachings of the Church about the value of the right use of reason are presented. The Pope is careful to establish reason’s capacity to receive through faith the gratuitous gift of revelation, as well as to show the many errors that today seem to cloud or disintegrate the legitimate capabilities of human reason, as those that by denaturalizing it transform it into an idol.

From his three programmatic encyclicals dedicated to the Father, to the Son and the Holy Spirit, including “Veritatis splendor”, up to “Faith and reason”, Pope John Paul II has been active in preparing the People of God, and the whole world, to enter the Third Millennium. His apostolic letters, his homilies, his catechesis, his speeches fill thousands of pages of enlightening teachings for us human being, pilgrims in this world. He is the Pope of the correct application of Council Vatican II, whose teachings flourish with a dynamism of hope toward the future.

Nobody can deny that the Pope John Paul II exercises a fascination on believers and non believers of the whole world. At first the media tried to explain this “mystery” in a thousand ways, most of them reductive lucubrations centered in its strong and vigorous personality. But after he was attacked on May 13th 1981, suffered several surgeries, experienced the years passing by, the ailments that he suffers, that same media was left without arguments. The Pope, with the fragile image that he presents today, has the same attraction as twenty years ago, to every kind of enthusiastic multitudes, especially to the youth that yearn for the truth that comes from God, the truth that the Holy Father proclaims unceasingly to a world undermined by the “culture of death”. Today the reductive explanations seem to have been exhausted. And it is so because the Holy Father’s strength comes from his faith and his life of prayer, from the kindness of God that takes care of him according to His divine Plan.

The Pope is a voice of hope that answers the hunger of God with the announcement of the Good News, and proclaims the right to see the hunger of bread, of dignity, of a home, of respected rights, fulfilled in people’s life. But also, Pope John Paul II himself is today an unequivocal sign of hope for all.

(*) This newspaper article was first published on October 22nd 1998.


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

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