We all need inspiration and we all need role models. Consciously or subconsciously we all have them. Some look at movie stars, others find them in sportsmen, while some others, among people we interact with. The Catholic Church has blessed us with ready role models, the Catholic Superstars who have lived their lives as a model for others to follow in the footsteps of Christ.
Today, I would like to speak about my role model. A man who was not conventional but moved and acted with the signs of the times. He had a charismatic and enthusiastic personality that automatically drew millions to adore him. He celebrated life with a joy that was so contagious, that every time you saw him or his picture, you automatically had a smile on your face. I am speaking of none other than, one of the recent additions to the status of sainthood – Karol Wojtyla, better known as Pope John Paul II.
Pope John Paul II was elected pope by the Catholic Church in 1978 which itself was a remarkable moment for the Church as he was the first non- Italian after 455 years. His roadmap to sainthood was super-fast. He was venerable in December 2009, then beatified in May 2011, finally canonized in April 2014. Why was he recognized as a saint so fast? What is so special about him?
He underwent a lot of suffering right from his early childhood. He lost his mother before he was ten, then his brother died when he was twelve and finally his dad passed away when he was twenty one. His country was attacked by the Nazis and later by the soviet red army. Under the Nazi regime, he worked in a quarry, breaking rocks into smaller stones and understood the work of a laborer. He was a patriot, he loved his country and its culture. From his youth days, Karol was interested in dramatics and wanted to pursue acting as a career. He loved reading, and was an exceptional student with a curious mind.
Studying for the priesthood in an underground seminary in occupied Poland, he was ordained in 1946 and received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the Pontifical Angelicum University in Rome. He was not just a brilliant student himself, but an even better professor. His classrooms were full of young students who enjoyed his charismatic way of teaching. He used his brilliance to almost singlehandedly kick communism off the face of the earth.
He loved nature and enjoyed the Culture of the outdoors. He loved sports and played quite a few as a priest and even Cardinal. He is said to have sneaked out of the Vatican once or twice, under disguise to go skiing and enjoy the outdoors.
He was one of the most travelled popes in the history of the Church. He took the command of going to the ends of the earth literally. He went on 250 Pastoral visits to 129 countries. He also wrote a total of 14 encyclicals and his masterpiece of complied work which today is famously known as ‘Theology of the Body‘ which gives us a deeper insight into true love.
Pope John Paul II modernized the papacy and was loved and appreciated internationally. Despite his modern role, his rule has not been without controversy. His declaration that women may not serve as priests and his attempt to apologize for historic prejudices and injustices by the Catholic Church received criticism. He also stood firm against the evils of abortion and fought for the rights of the unborn. He never hesitated to state the teachings of the Church even if not appreciated by majority He was recognized for his vibrant personality as Times Person of the Year in 1994.
He was a pope who was loved by the young. He started the concept of ‘WORLD YOUTH DAY‘, where he met youth from all over the world and celebrated faith. Young people followed him and his teachings and came to be known as the JP2 Generation.
But everything considered, the reason I love him the most is because in the face of great trail, he placed Jesus first. His strength came from his prayer life and his total trust in the Lord. He was a huge devotee of our lady and considered her to be his very own mother. He never lost focus of the teachings of the Church and he practiced what he preached. He was once shot in the Vatican but soon after recovery he went and met his shooter, sat and prayed with him and forgave him. He was a champion of human rights – he fought for the weak, the unborn, the elderly and the poor.
For me, he is the most brilliant example of what a catholic is called to be. Even when I look at what kind of a priest I want to be, the only answer in my head is I want to be like JP2. He strove to teach people to love and in doing so he sacrificed a lot. True love is sacrificial and self-emptying and he went to the very end doing so and with a smile on his face. Only love can bring joy in this world.
There is absolutely no doubt why he is canonized a saint. But another reason why I love him so much is because, one glance at his picture, which I proudly carry in my wallet, automatically brings me to my knees to praise and thank God. He is the perfect ambassador of Christ and his life mission was to make Jesus present in the world. I am no saint but I am striving to be one and I want to be like John Paul II.
St. John Paul II, intercede for us all.