On July 25, 2002, my little flock of teens and young adults was gathered at the World Youth Day site in Toronto, waiting for John Paul to arrive. Over the horizon someone caught sight of a white helicopter approaching and cried out “habemus papam! Pope John Paul II is coming!” The aircraft tilted a bit toward us and several in my group burst into tears, including myself. We were astonished. Why on earth were we crying? The reason for tears became clear over the next few days as the man of God spent time with us, listened and spoke, prayed and laughed with us. It became clear how much we longed for a father on earth who communicated the love of our Father in heaven. God gave St. John Paul the gift of fatherhood, and he readily gave it to us. We have a pope, but more precisely, we have a father. The pope is essentially a papa.
Fear had paralyzed his home country of Poland for many years by the time he became the Supreme Pontifex, or bridge-builder. Communist tyranny had established a generational terror into the entire Soviet bloc. In June of 1979, as I was graduating from High School, the new Holy Father arrived in Poland to dispel that fear with a few words: “Be not afraid to fling open wide the doors to Christ!”
Fear grips my country today. A tyranny more sophisticated than Soviet communism is growing in the west. No one dares question regnant anthropological ideologies imposed with sophisticated social media and ruthless political force. Appeals to rational argumentation are labeled “hate,” and few dare question the logic of these assertions. These political and commercial powers have amassed immense sums of capital which no human power can gainsay.
John Paul II faced dictatorship like we do, but his courage did not falter. No ideological streams could poison the wells of joy from which he drank. And so he could be a father to us all, a Holy Father who could show the entire world reasons for hope. May St. John Paul, looking at us from his window in the Father’s House (in the words of Joseph Ratzinger’s funeral homily), bless us again. Speak the words again you gave us on earth: Non abbiate paura! Aprite, anzi, spalancate, le porte a Cristo!” Do not be afraid! Open, fling wide even, the doors to Christ!