John Paul II served as a special father for all


My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

In a week in which we have expressed sadness, grief, heartfelt respect and affection remembering Pope John Paul II, he remains for us a man among men, a man of towering strength, firmness of faith and steely determination.

His life and ministry are complete, his journey over, his task done, his mission fulfilled. He now returns to his ancestors and to his God, whom he adored, worshipped, sought after and served so well, so completely and so willingly here on earth. As we mourn his passing, grieve over his loss and lament his being taken away, we also in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of Christ from the dead pray for his safe passage from death to life, from darkness to light and from an earthly abode to paradise.

Most people of the world, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, will remember his frequent trips to many parts of the world. In his travels he became present to the world; the visits were full of symbolic references to his role as a spiritual father. In a particular way, with his travels to the tomb of St. James in Spain, of St. Augustine in Canterbury and to the shrine of the Martyrs of Uganda, he consistently described himself as a pilgrim. In doing so, he taught us a great deal about the necessity of walking that narrow path, which leads to God and, in the process, a great deal about the characteristics of a devoted pilgrim: about courage, about perseverance, about untiring zeal, about total determination, about dauntless faith, about hope.

As evidenced by his travels and keen sense of mission to the people of the world, few people have been more concerned, more solicitous, more caring and more in solidarity with the world. Few people have seen more human tragedy, have felt more grief, have experienced more human suffering and, in the process, have defended more oppressed people, have fought more strongly against tyranny, have cried out more emphatically against poverty and want, have been more of a voice for justice, human rights and human dignity than John Paul II.

Catholics discovered very early in his pontificate that we had to share this Holy Father with the world. He expanded, far more than anyone could have expected or imagined, the mission of the papacy. His first and most important concern, of course, was the well-being of the church. That concern, however, extended necessarily to all the world, especially those most in need of the compassion of Christ. In turn, he motivated his flock his Catholic faithful to a greater awareness of the grief of the world and to express their compassion, or rather the compassion of Christ, in word and deed far beyond where many were prepared to go.

In that rich parable of the Good Samaritan, the Pharisee asked Jesus, "Then who is my neighbor?" It became abundantly clear to us that, by his example, John Paul II answered strongly and emphatically for the Catholic faithful. Our global neighbor is anyone, anywhere and in any circumstance, who needs our compassion and charity.
One could rightly ask, "How was this pope able to be sustained with the enormous burden resting on his shoulders? What was the key to his capacity to respond to the needs of the many and to remain serene and balanced? What were the secret weapons in his arsenal of strength?"

If one were to closely observe his life, one would quickly conclude that without a doubt he was sustained by intense and incessant prayer. Over and over again, Scripture repeats the admonitions, "Pray always; pray constantly; in incessant prayer make your needs known to God." John Paul II understood and appreciated the importance of this counsel. He once described prayer as his relationship with God.

Through prayer he was guided and nourished by the presence and power of God. He once remarked that he often felt the need to go away for a while; away from his duties and responsibilities to be refreshed and renewed from the wellspring of prayer. In this way, as we well know, he was like Christ, who would on many occasions go away from his pressing duties and spend the entire night alone with God.

What an example he leaves for us, who more often than not, find excuses in our busyness and schedules to flee from God, rather than fly to him!

Further, there was no doubt that he was also sustained in his resolve to surrender his will completely and totally to God. His life motto, "Totus tuus," literally translated means "All yours." That sense of surrender brought about an unusual confidence in his own abilities and the strength he needed to address the world's and the church's challenges with courage and faith.

In "Crossing the Threshold of Hope," he described how this surrender unleashed a torrent of imagination, creativity and energy, for he was able to recognize that all his abilities came from that deep interior life he shared with God.
Of equal importance were his tireless attempts to teach us that, if we would have the courage, we too could tap into that reservoir of grace and power in prayer and in surrender to God.

We recall that in his later years, as he surely must have been aware that his life was coming towards its final chapter, he would often encourage us to cast our nets out into the deep water. "Don't be timid or hesitant. Go the distance. In the deep, you will find God, for God is there to sustain you."

He also pleaded with us that we were not to be afraid. "Do not be afraid!" In saying so, he made reference to St. Paul who once wrote to the Christian community that "God has not given you a spirit of fear." If that fear has not come from God, it most assuredly has come from someplace else. Return then to God, who removes all fear, that you may become what you are to be, and live in the fullness of God.

As we mourn his loss, we also express our gratitude to God for giving us in our day and time, all too filled with fear and oppression, a John Paul II, who was able to name and overcome that fear. We thank God for the gift of Pope John Paul II and we beg God for the courage to honor him by imitating his courage, faith and hope in the risen Lord.

In the ancient prayer of our church, we say with faith-filled love, "May he be with the living God, may he be with the immortal God, and may he be with God forever."

Sincerely yours in the Lord,

John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee