WASHINGTON (April 2, 2005)— In a statement released today, Spokane Bishop William S. Skylstad, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that, “At the very center of his being, Pope John Paul II was a priest and pastor.”
“As Pope John Paul enters the fullness of eternal life we celebrate, as
people of faith, his truly remarkable life,” Bishop Skylstad added.
In his statement, Bishop Skylstad emphasized Pope John Paul’s contribution
to implementing the Church’s most recent ecumenical council, Vatican II,
1962-1965; his impact on world affairs, including the fall of Communism in
Eastern Europe; and his ecumenical and interfaith endeavors, especially
with regard to the Catholic Church’s relationship with the Jewish people.
Bishop Skylstad also called attention to Pope John Paul’s proclamation of
“the importance of protecting human life from conception to natural
death,” his opposition to the death penalty, and his defense of the rights
of workers and of the poor. He called John Paul II “a voice for the
voiceless and the vulnerable” and “a friend to humanity”
Bishop Skylstad praised the pontiff as “a great teacher” who had written
an “extraordinary series of encyclicals” and who, out of his concern that
“all the people of the Church have a clear understanding of the faith,”
oversaw the development of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The statement also highlighted the care that Pope John Paul had for youth,
manifested in the celebration of World Youth Days around the world, and
for the elderly and infirm to whom he was been an inspiration “as his own
physical limitations mounted.”
As president of the USCCB, Bishop Skylstad took note of the gratitude of
bishops “for the ministry which Pope John Paul II gave to his brothers in
“May we who mourn the passing of our Holy Father follow the example of his
faith and be led, as he was, to a deeper hope of eternal life with the
Risen Christ,” Bishop Skylstad concluded.
The full statement follows.
Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane
President of The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Pope John Paul Ii
Our Lord has given our beloved Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, the last
summons that he will receive in this life, calling him to his final rest
after 26 years of faithful service to Him and to the Church as universal
pastor. As Pope John Paul enters the fullness of eternal life we
celebrate, as people of faith, his truly remarkable life.
For more than a generation, Pope John Paul has been the spiritual father
of Catholics around the globe, a powerful force in world affairs, a moral
compass in turbulent times. He was a scholar, a writer, poet, linguist,
and a statesman, to mention only a few of his talents. He was a voice for
the voiceless and the vulnerable. He was a friend to humanity.
At the very center of his being, Pope John Paul II was a priest and
As a priest, Pope John Paul was wholly dedicated to serving Christ through
his Church. From his earliest days as a parish priest ministering to the
needs of farmers in rural Poland, to his participation in the Second
Vatican Council, to his remarkable quarter-of- a-century and more as the
Church’s Universal Pastor, John Paul was always a servant of the servants
As a pastor, Pope John Paul was drawn to minister directly to his flock,
no matter how remote the location. Whether visiting the parishes of his
own Diocese of Rome or the far-flung reaches of Oceania, the shepherd
seemed to draw strength and energy from being among his flock. In the
United States, we will long remember with fondness his five extended
visits. On his many pastoral visits around the world, he was tireless in
proclaiming the Church’s commitment to peace, sustainable development, and
human solidarity. Through his travels, John Paul truly became the first
citizen of the world.
Among Pope John Paul’s greatest legacies is his leadership in implementing
the work of the Second Vatican Council. He took the Council as his guide
throughout his pontificate and especially in developing the extraordinary
vision for the future of the Church which he offered in his apostolic
letter at the close of the great jubilee of the year 2000 and the
beginning of the new millennium.
Pope John Paul II was also a great teacher as was demonstrated by his many
writings, especially his extraordinary series of encyclicals. His concern
that all the people of the Church have a clear understanding of the faith
is enshrined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, whose development he
oversaw and which now permanently enriches the faith life of the Church.
Pope John Paul’s pontificate changed not only the Church but the world.
The spirit of hope that his election aroused in his beloved homeland of
Poland spread to all of Eastern Europe and helped bring to an end the
years of communist oppression in those nations which hastened the end of
the Soviet Union itself.
The value and dignity of the human person have been a central focus of
Pope John Paul II’s preaching, teaching, and ministry. He has ceaselessly
proclaimed the importance of protecting human life from conception to
natural death. He has opposed the death penalty as unnecessary in modern
society. He has defended the rights of workers and of the poor.
Young and old alike have drawn inspiration from Pope John Paul. As a
parish priest and young bishop, he understood the importance of the young
as a source of vibrancy and renewal in the Church. He carried that
understanding into his papacy by establishing and attending World Youth
Day celebrations, which provoked a tremendous outpouring of enthusiasm
among the young. The elderly and infirm have been inspired by his
indefatigable perseverance as his own physical limitations mounted.
Pope John Paul’s love for the Church did not diminish his respect for
other religious traditions. With his outreach to the leaders of the
world’s religions, he underscored the role of religion in serving world
peace. He worked to heal the divisions with the Orthodox and other
Christian faiths. Throughout his life he has shown a special sensitivity
to the Jewish people. His memorable visits to the synagogue in Rome and to
the West Wall in Jerusalem and his normalizing diplomatic relations
between the Holy See and the state of Israel are highlights of his
pontificate. At the same time, he has sought greater understanding with
the worlds of Islam and Buddhism.
As a bishop and as president of the United States Conference of Catholic
Bishops, I want to note how grateful we bishops are for the ministry which
Pope John Paul II gave to his brothers in the episcopacy. By word and
deed, he nourished us – as individuals or gathered together in universal
synods, in the meetings of our conference, or in encounters with him
during one of his pastoral visits. In him, we found a brother in Christ
who, wholly dedicated to the office of bishop himself, knew how to
strengthen his brothers.
Pope John Paul took as an informal motto of his papacy the words of
scripture, “Be not afraid!” Through these twenty-six years, he taught us
in word and deed the meaning of this phrase – that all who wholeheartedly
open their lives to Christ and belong to Him have nothing to fear in this
world or the next.
May we who mourn the passing of our Holy Father follow the example of his
faith and be led, as he was, to a deeper hope of eternal life with the
Video clips of Bishop Skylstad commenting on the life and papacy of Pope
John Paul II are available on the Web at:
April 2, 2005