Blessed John Paul II: Worker Pope ‘raised to the altars’
The Holy Father holds a koala in Brisbane during his visit to Australia in 1986. Photo: The Catholic Weekly
From Bishop Anthony Fisher OP Catholic Outlook, May 2011
Actor-athlete turned scholar-pope. Destroyer of communism. Champion of human freedom. Advocate of peace and reconciliation. Jubilee Pope. Builder of the civilisation of life and love. Enemy of the culture of death. Teacher of faith and reason. Friend of youth and Father of World Youth Day. Defender of the poor. Voice for the voiceless. Living testimony to dignity in old age and sickness. True apostle. Faithful servant of God. Millennial pope. John Paul the Great.
It sounds like a Catholic litany, but these titles came from the world’s secular leaders and journalists in the days that followed the death of Pope John Paul II.
It was undoubtedly the biggest funeral in history. About four million people were there and billions more watched by television or the internet. The outpouring of grief and gratitude for this man and for the way he brought people closer to God crossed all boundaries and was genuine. Many at the time said ‘Santo subito’: sainthood now; already a saint!
Catholics like litanies, long lists of names to describe God or the saints and to ask for their help. It is a natural response to the fact that no one tag adequately captures the greatness of God and His best friends. Now we’ve added a new title to our late Pope’s litany: he is Blessed John Paul.
The New Testament offers a number of very moving vignettes of Jesus’ encounters with John Paul’s predecessor, Peter. ‘Come follow me and I’ll make you a fisher of men’; ‘Put out into the deep’; ‘Be not afraid’; ‘You are Peter, the bedrock on which I’ll build my Church’; ‘I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven’; ‘What you bind and loose is done so in heaven’; ‘Whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven’; ‘I have prayed that your faith will not fail’; ‘Confirm the brethren’; ‘Do this in memory of me’; ‘Feed my lambs’; ‘Go out to all the world and proclaim the Gospel’.
Peter and his successors respond on our behalf: ‘Lord, everyone is searching for you’; ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’; ‘Let us build tabernacles for you’; ‘Lord, to whom else could we go? You have the words of eternal life’; ‘Then wash me all over’; ‘You know I love you’; ‘I would lay down my life for you’.
In this conversation between the papacy and Our Lord we hear so many premonitions of John Paul’s life. He made his own the call to ‘Be not afraid’ and ‘Put out into the deep’. He followed, he fished, he taught, he absolved, he celebrated the Holy Eucharist. He left his own homeland to go out to all the world proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. He gave his all.
'To share in the creative activity of God'
Pope John Paul II speaking with workers at the Seven Hills Transfield factory in 1986. Photo: The Catholic Weekly
The longest pilgrimage of this Pilgrim Pope was the 30,000 miles through Bangladesh, Singapore, Fiji and New Zealand to Australia in 1986. In Sydney he held hands and danced in a conga-line with youngsters in jeans. In Melbourne he did impromptu Q&A with primary children. He visited Aborigines in central Australia and encouraged them in their struggle for recognition and reconciliation. He cradled a koala in Brisbane. And, best of all, he wore a hard hat in a factory in Seven Hills in the then-newest diocese he had created: the Diocese of Parramatta!
There he told the workers that he was one of them and that he admired their dedication to ordinary work. Jesus Christ Himself, he pointed out, “although the Son of God, chose to be an ordinary worker for most of his earthly life, toiling away as a carpenter in Nazareth.” Working people had made Australia great. They should never be thought of as mere resources. They should be given opportunities to contribute to the common good and receive their fair share. They should be assisted by technology not mastered or replaced by it.
“People need to work, not just to earn money for the necessities of life, but also to fulfil their calling to share in the creative activity of God. The human satisfaction that comes from work well done shows how profoundly the Creator has inscribed the law of work in the heart of man. The goods of the world belong to the whole human family ... We all need to feel that we are truly productive and useful members of our community. It is our right.”
Economics, the Pope told the people of Western Sydney, “cannot be separated from the ethical and social aspects of life in society ... the worker is always more important than both profits and machines”. As a sharing in God’s creativity and Christ’s service, human work should offer an “uplifting and exhilarating” experience of “working with the Creator in perfecting his design and plan for the world”
Now the Worker Pope, the Pope from Parramatta, is ‘raised to the altars’. Blessed John Paul II pray for us.
On the Vatican’s website you can read the speech Blessed John Paul II made in our Diocese in its entirety.