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Pope John Paul II: 25 Years of Service

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Image: Wikipedia

On October 16, 1978, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected as the Bishop of Rome, choosing the name John Paul. This October 16th, he will have completed 25 years of service as the successor of Saint Peter. Only three other popes have served longer.

John Paul II: A Light for the World is a collection of texts and photos honoring this anniversary. The 256-page book, with pictures by official Vatican photographers, was edited by Sister Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and published this month by Sheed & Ward, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

The following photos and five excerpts are reprinted with permission of the publisher.

When Outside Rome
By Cindy Wooden

Watching Pope John Paul II in Rome and around the world, I realize that being pastor of the universal Church sometimes means being prepared for anything.

Vatican officials have discussed, debated and tried to legislate the extent to which local cultural expressions, including dance and music, should be allowed at Mass.

Yet Pope John Paul seems to accept and, most times, delight in the differences.

While the pope was prepared for a choreographed offertory dance at the opening Mass for the Synod of Bishops for Africa, the sounds of joy were not scripted: Ululations sprang from the throats of African women, bouncing off the walls of St. Peter’s Basilica, providing a totally natural “surround sound” effect.

Native American pipe-smokers and incense smoke rising from clay pots rather than thuribles bring attentive looks, not scowls, from the pope.

He places Communion on the outstretched hands of the faithful with the same reverently serious gaze as he has when he places Communion on someone’s tongue. He did not hesitate leaving street shoes behind when visiting a mosque in Syria or a Hindu’s tomb in India.

Even before physical limitations led Pope John Paul to shorten his speeches and hold fewer public meetings, what often attracted young and old, believers and nonbelievers, to him was not just what the pope said, but what he did.

Cindy Wooden is the senior Rome correspondent for Catholic News Service, where she has worked since 1989. She has covered some of the pope’s travels.

I’ve Lost the Holy Father!
By Cardinal Roger M. Mahony

In September of 1987, Pope John Paul made an extensive pastoral visit to the United States, beginning in Miami and concluding in Detroit. Two memorable days were spent in Los Angeles.

On the first night of the pope’s stay in our cathedral residence, after we had returned from a large public Mass in the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Holy Father was running a bit early on his schedule. It had been planned for him to have a late dinner in the small dining room on the third floor of the residence.

When the Holy Father, then-Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz (his secretary) and I exited the elevator for dinner, we could smell the food cooking in the kitchen but there were no cooks, waiters or other personnel anywhere. Feeling that overwhelming sense of panic, I assured the Holy Father that the staff must be nearby somewhere, and invited him to be seated in the dining room while I searched for them.

It seems that the Secret Service had brought everyone down to the first floor as part of their security protocol but had failed to inform the cooks and waiters that they could return to the dining room area.

When I went back into the small dining room, the pope and Monsignor Dziwisz were nowhere to be found. I heard voices in the kitchen, and upon entering, I saw the Holy Father lifting the lids on various pots and pans on the stove. Before I knew it, they were serving themselves a nice helping of soup!

The pope seemed so relaxed, truly enjoying his time in the kitchen, and made us all feel like mutual friends enjoying a meal together.

Roger M. Mahony was named auxiliary bishop of Fresno (1975), bishop of Stockton (1980) and archbishop of Los Angeles (1985). He was appointed a cardinal in 1991.

A Snub for the Pope
By John Thavis

It was the end of a long day in Mexico City. The pope was running late; and when he trudged into a crowded hospital, he seemed exhausted. Then a little baby caught his eye and he lit up. I’ve seen it so many times over the years, but it’s always amazing how small children and John Paul II connect in a special way. In this rundown clinic, he reached out and caressed the soft cheek, then traced a cross on the child’s forehead. A blissful moment.

In Rome, I’ve watched over the pope’s shoulder as babies are passed up to him for a blessing. He lifts each one with extra care and a watchful eye. But not all kids react the same way to a papal embrace. Some smile, some coo and a few burst into tears.

On a summer’s day many years ago at his villa outside Rome, the pope reached out for our own baby daughter. It’s all captured in our family photo album: the white-robed pontiff approaching, ready to plant a kiss on her cheek. The proud parents beaming. Then our three-year-old bailed out with a stiff-armed refusal. The pope took the snub in stride, still smiling.

John Thavis has worked in Rome for Catholic News Service since 1983, heading the office since 1996. His coverage of the pope has won several awards from the Catholic Press Association.

Calling on the Young
By Sister Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M.

Leaders of all stripes emerged in the 20th century but only Pope John Paul II thought to convene young people and offer a vision to the leaders of tomorrow.

Beginning in Rome in 1985 and continuing through to Toronto in 2002, John Paul has invited young people to join him for a series of World Youth Days. By 2002, he had drawn millions of young people to international gatherings in Buenos Aires, Argentina (1987), Santiago de Compostela, Spain (1989), Czestochowa, Poland (1991), Denver, Colorado (1993), Manila, the Philippines (1995), Paris, France (1997), Rome, Italy (2000) and Toronto, Canada (2002).

The meetings showed the particular appeal of John Paul to young people. Speaking in the language of the country where each event took place, he tapped into their idealism with a message that they are the ones to bring peace to the world.

He bantered with them—to their chants of “John Paul II, we love you,” he responded, “John Paul II, he loves you too.” He called them to be holy, bringing tears to their eyes; his words touched their hearts and souls.

He reminded them that there are no limits to what they can do with God.

World Youth Day is for the hardy. It involves hiking for miles to a site for an all-night vigil marked by prayer with the pope, Scripture, community and song. The following day the young people participate in a Mass celebrated by the pope. Some years it has rained, leaving young people coated in mud. Other years it has been chilly. Other years, hot. Always, the event has inspired participants and observers.

The pope’s visit to Denver in 1993 amazed even the cynical. “It’s like Woodstock, with all of the good and none of the bad,” boasted a Washington Post page-one story. Viewers were amazed that hundreds of thousands of youth could gather for a lively five days of prayer and celebration of their faith.

Even as the pope grew older, World Youth Day energized him. In 1993, organizers coined a new verb, youthen, to describe a phenomenon they saw; as in, the pope youthens when he meets young people. In Toronto, nine years later, a visibly aging pope gathered energy from his first glimpse of youth from the plane.

Given his increasing difficulty in walking, organizers prepared a device to lift the pope down when he disembarked from the Alitalia plane. To everyone’s surprise, the pope walked down the steps and headed for the microphones. Young people were calling him and he responded, as always, with the affection he feels especially for them.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., serves as the deputy director for media relations at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. She worked for Catholic News Service from 1983 through 1993. Sister Mary Ann coordinated media relations for the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver.

Lost in Prayer
By Bishop Joseph A. Galante

During the six years that I served in Rome as undersecretary at the Congregation for Consecrated Life (1987-1992), it was my privilege to have lunch with the pope once or twice each year. These were memorable occasions, providing opportunities to experience the pope’s sense of humor, his ease in conversing and his interpersonal skills.

The most profound experiences that I had were during the visits to his private chapel after the meal. I was very much struck by the profound sense of prayerfulness of the Holy Father.

Pope John Paul II is able to so focus on his relationship with God that all other people and sounds and settings are blotted out.

I came away from those times with a conviction that our Holy Father is truly a mystic. His relationship with the Lord is so total and consuming that to be in his presence when he is at prayer enables one to experience the presence of God.

That conviction endures within me and I seek to imitate in my own poor way the example of a man of profound prayer. A true mystic in our day.

Joseph A. Galante has served as auxiliary bishop of San Antonio (1992), bishop of Beaumont (1994) and coadjutor bishop of Dallas (1999).

John Paul II: A Light for the World ($35.00, plus shipping and handling) can be ordered through 1-800-462-6420.