Pope John Paul II is a witness of hope for peoples, cultures and nations, because he bears witness to the Risen Christ, to His almighty mercy: “Do not be afraid”, was his first cry from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica, - on the day of his election as Pope, in October 1978 -, “open the doors to Christ". As if to say: do not fear God’s mercy! Do not fear the Only One who can forgive, the one who longs to forgive and to save sinful mankind.
John Paul II has sown this seed of hope and he continues to do so generously opening for everyone the door which is the mercy of Christ and like the Good Samaritan, tending to wounded humanity, healing it and restoring the dignity of the human person created in the image and likeness of God.
To sow these seeds of Hope John Paul II has made himself everything to everyone like St Paul, he has travelled, a missionary and witness of the Gospel to many nations on every continent. These 25 years of his Pontificate have been, we could say, a vast sowing of mercy, a constant going out to the peoples to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to tell everyone that God is never weary of mankind and that mankind’s weariness and indifference towards God meet in God only forgiving and saving love.
In actual fact the Pope knows that the responsibility to proclaim Christ’s loving mercy to the whole world is a duty for everyone. If it is true in fact as the Pope himself says, "Novo Millennio Ineunte", mission ad gentes is still only beginning and that missionary work in recent times has gradually waned, we can understand why he is the first to be a missionary, leader and teacher to teach a new method and style of evangelisation centred on divine mercy, divine love which saves.
I think often of this collective duty to be missionary condensed in the "duc in altum", with which the Supreme Pontiff summarises perfectly not only the significance of the jubilee year, overabundant in mercy, but also the missionary spirit of his entire Pontificate.
"Today – the Holy Father writes in NMI paragraph 40 - … we must relive the burning sentiments of Paul who exclaimed: ‘Woe to me if I did not preach the Gospel !' (1 Cor 9,16)."
The most able missionary is a missionary who like Paul recognises that God is Love and he pours this love into the heart of everyone he meets. Love is the power of evangelisation. Not by chance St Teresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face was made first patroness of the missions and then, under this pontificate, Doctor of the Church. She discovered her vocation to “be love” in the heart of the Church. In fact, she explains, without love missionaries cannot proclaim the Gospel, without love martyrs cannot give the lives…In other words without love there cannot be effective proclamation of the Gospel!
The Pope’s missionary ardour and missionary love is today more intense than ever because it is impregnated with love corroborated by suffering which offers to everyone the most significant testimony, that of a life given for God and for mankind; this type of witness is greater than all others, including proclamation!
The Holy Father live his suffering with the greatest dignity because Christ suffers in every Christian who trusts in Him; and with this manner of witness the Holy Father inspires in all, believers and non, also the greatest respect perhaps because in the person who suffers with Christ the presence of the mystery of God is even more visible!
Much could be said about the Holy Father’s work and teaching with regard to evangelisation and missionary spirit in these 25 years of his pontificate but I would dwell on this dimension of self-giving love and on the time we are living now, as we walk day by day behind the Holy Father learning from his Christian witness which we feel more than ever our own.
Let me conclude this brief reflection with a prophecy of hope which the Pope added, almost as apex and conclusion of his missionary encyclical Redemptoris Missio, at paragraph 86:
“God is preparing a great springtime for Christianity and we can already see its first signs. In fact, both in the non-Christian world and in the traditionally Christian world, people are gradually drawing closer to gospel ideals and values, a development which the Church seeks to encourage. Today in fact there is a new consensus among peoples about these values: the rejection of violence and war; respect for the human person and for human rights; the desire for freedom, justice and brotherhood; the surmounting of different forms of racism and nationalism; the affirmation of the dignity and role of women.”
May Christian hope and trust sustains us in our total commitment to new evangelisation and universal mission, leading us to pray as Jesus taught us: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Mt 6,10)”.
This is the prayer of the Pope and our prayer, that the Church, following the example of John Paul II, may continue with joyful and certain hope, to proclaim the loving mercy of Christ to all peoples .
May Mary, Mother of Mercy and Star of evangelisation, assist and protects us. Crescenzio Card. Sepe (Fides Service 17/10/2003 EM lines 75 Words: 927)