call to freedom that defined his papacy was forged in the experiences of
Pope John Paul's own life. He came to manhood during the Nazi occupation
of his beloved Poland, when he eluded the Gestapo to attend an
underground seminary. Later, when he was named Poland's youngest bishop,
he came face to face with the other great totalitarianism of the 20th
century: Communism. And soon he taught the communist rulers in Warsaw
and Moscow that moral truth had legions of its own and a force greater
than their armies and secret police.
That moral conviction gave the man from Krakow a confidence that
inspired millions. In 1978, when he looked out at the crowd in front of
St. Peter's as their new Pope, the square rang with his words "Be Not
Everywhere he went, the Pope preached that the call of freedom is for
every member of the human family because the Author of Life wrote it
into our common human nature.
Many in the West underestimated the Pope's influence. But those
behind the Iron Curtain knew better, and ultimately even the Berlin Wall
could not withstand the gale force of this Polish Pope.
The Pope held a special affection for America. During his many visits
to our country, he spoke of our providential Constitution, the
self-evident truths about human dignity enshrined in our Declaration,
and the blessings of liberty that followed from them. It is these
timeless truths about man, enshrined in our founding, the Pope said,
that have led freedom-loving people around the world to look to America
with hope and respect. And he challenged America always to live up to
its lofty calling. The Pope taught us that the foundation for human
freedom is a universal respect for human dignity. On all his travels,
John Paul preached that even the least among us bears the image of our
Creator, so we must work for a society where the most vulnerable among
us have the greatest claim on our protection.
And by his own courageous example in the face of illness and
suffering, he showed us the path to a culture of life where the dignity
of every human person is respected, and human life at all its stages is
revered and treasured.
As the Pope grew physically weaker, his spiritual bond with young
people grew stronger. They flocked to him in his final moments,
gathering outside his window to pray and sing hymns and light candles.
With them, we honor this son of Poland who became the Bishop of Rome,
and a hero for the ages.
Thank you for listening.