The Good Pope

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

The life and legacy of Bl. Pope John XXIII, who died 40 years ago on 3 June 1963, remains a testimony to peace for the Church and the world

At the General Audience of Wednesday, 4 June, in St Peter's Square, the subject of the Holy Father's catechesis was Blessed Pope John XXIII, whom he beatified in 2000. Pope John XXIII died 40 years ago on 3 June 1963. In his Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris,the 40th anniversary of whose publication occurred this year, Pope John invited every believer to bear witness to God's great gift of peace before the world. Pope John Paul II, in discussing this theme, reminded the faithful that "the secret of peace and joy lie in profound and constant communionwith God". The Pope ended his tribute to Bl. John XXIII by askingMaryto "help us persevere, with our words and our example, in the commitment to witness to peace... ". Lastly, theHoly Father mentioned his forthcoming visit to Croatia. The following is a translation of the Pope's Catechesis, which was given in Italian.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Forty years ago the beloved and revered Pope John XXIII died. I had the joy of beatifying him, together with Pius IX, on 3 September in the Year 2000.

It comes naturally to think of Monday, 3 June 1963: of that afternoon when the faithful of Rome and pilgrims flocked by the thousands to St Peter's Square, to be as close as possible to their beloved Father and Pastor who, after a long and painful illness, was departing this world.

At seven o'clock in the evening, Cardinal Luigi Traglia, Pro-Vicar of Rome, began to celebrate holy Mass in front of the Vatican Basilica while, from his bed, which had become an altar, Pope John XXIII was completing his spiritual sacrifice, the total sacrifice of his life.

From St Peter's Square, filled to overflowing, the prayer of the Church rose in unison to Heaven. We seem to be reliving those moments of intense emotion, when all humanity's gaze was turned to the window on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace. The end of that Mass coincided with the death of' the Good Pope.

John XXIII: Jesus, his Church, his Gospel, more valuable than life

2. "This bed is an altar; the altar needs a victim: here I am, ready. I offer my life for the Church, the continuation of the Ecumenical Council, the peace of the world, and Christian unity" (Discorsi, Messaggi, Colloqui del Santo Padre Giovanni XXIII, V, p.618).

Ecce adsum! Here I am, I am ready! Throughout his life, the serene thought of death had accompanied Pope John who, at the hour of his farewell, turned his gaze to the future and the expectations of the People of God and of the world. In moving tones, he said that the secret of his priesthood was to be found in the Crucifix which he had always kept jealously opposite his bed. "In my long and frequent nocturnal conversations, he noted, "the thought of the redemption of the world appeared to me to be more urgent than ever". "Those arms wide open", he added, "say that he died for us all, for us all; no one is excluded from his love, from his forgiveness (ibid.).

It is not difficult to make out in these brief words the sense of his priestly ministry, wholly dedicated to making known and loved "what is more value than life: blessed Jesus Christ: his Holy Church,his Gospel" (ibid.,p. 612). Until the very end,the desire to do this was vibrant within him. "My earthly days", Bl. John XXIIIconcluded, "are ending; but Christ lives on and the Church continues her task; souls, souls: ut unum sint, ut unum sint!" (ibid., p.619).

John XXIII's life was a witness to peace and a prophecy of peace

3. Less than two months earlier, on 11 April, John XXIII had published the most famous document of his Magisterium: the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, which this year I have spoken about on many occasions. This unforgettable Pontiff's entire life was a testimony to peace. His Pontificate proved to be an exalted prophecy of peace, fully expressed in Pacem in Terris which was, as it were, a public and universal testament.

Everyone who has joined the ranks of Christ", he wrote, "must be a glowing point of light in the world, a nucleus of love, a leaven of the whole mass. He will be so in proportion to his degree of spiritual union with God. The world will never be the dwelling-place of peace, till peace has found a home in the heart of each and every man" (Pacem in Terris, Part V, nn. 164-165).

To be a point of light it is necessary to live in permanent contact with God. My venerable Predecessor, who lefthis mark on history, reminds the people of the third millennium too that the secret of peace and joy lie in profound and constant communion with God. The Redeemer's Heart is the source of love and peace, of hope and joy.

Our memories of beloved Pope John are thus transformed into a prayer: may he intercede from Heaven so that we too, like him, may confess at the end of our lives that we have sought nothing but Christ and his Gospel.

May Mary — whom he liked to invoke with the beautiful short prayer, Mater mea, fiducia mea! — help us persevere, with our words and our example, in the commitment to witness to peace, to contribute to building the civilization of love.  

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
11 June 2003, page 11

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