It has been 3 years now. Time passes quickly and heals all wounds. But my memories of the man and those days are still fresh and vivid. I'm not going to recount them here, as I have written them elsewhere. Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz's memories of that day can be found here. He was the late Great's private secretary for many years.
Pope Benedict XVI has also recounted his memories of the man in the special Mass commemorating the third anniversary of the late Great's death in St. Peter's Square yesterday.
Zenit has the excerpts of the homily.
Once again, let us pray:
Says Polish Pontiff Was a Gift to the Church
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 2, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The pontificate of Pope John Paul II was a sign and testimony of the resurrection of Christ, Benedict XVI affirmed in a Mass for the soul of the Polish Pontiff three years after his death.
In the homily of today's Mass celebrated in St. Peter's Square, Benedict XVI said that "April 2 has been imprinted in the Church's memory as the day the Servant of God Pope John Paul II [said] good-bye to this world. [...] For a few days, the Vatican Basilica and this Square truly became the heart of the world."
"Just like three years ago, today as well, just a short time has passed since Easter," the Pope continued. "The heart of the Church finds itself still submerged in the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord. [...] He felt an extraordinary faith in Him, and with Him, he maintained an intimate, unique, uninterrupted conversation.
The German Pontiff said that the entire life of his predecessor was submerged in this spiritual dimension.
"His pontificate, taken together and in many specific moments, presents itself to us as a sign and testimony of the resurrection of Christ," he continued. "This paschal dynamism, which made of John Paul II's existence a total responding to the call of the Lord, could not be expressed except without a participation in the sufferings and the death of the divine Master and Redeemer."
Be not afraid
The Holy Father recalled how Karol Wojtyla suffered even in childhood, "finding the cross on his path, in his family, with his people."
"Very soon he decided to carry it beside Jesus, following in his footsteps," the Pope said. "He wanted to be his faithful servant to the point of welcoming the call to the priesthood as a gift and a commitment for all of his life. With Him, he lived, and with Him, he wanted to die."
Benedict XVI recalled how "the words of the angel of the Resurrection, [be not afraid], addressed to the women before the empty tomb [...] became a type of motto on the lips of Pope John Paul II, since the solemn beginnings of his Petrine ministry."
"He repeated them on various occasions to the Church and to the world," the Pope continued. "He always pronounced them with inflexible firmness, first raising up [his] crosier predominated by the cross, and later, when his physical energies were weakening, nearly clinging to it, until that last Good Friday, in which he participated in the Way of the Cross from his private chapel, embracing within his arms the cross."
It was the testimony of the last Good Friday John Paul II celebrated on earth that was a "silent testimony of love for Jesus," Benedict XVI affirmed.
"That eloquent scene of human suffering and faith, in that last Good Friday, also indicated to believers and to the world the secret of every Christian life," he continued. "That 'be not afraid' was not based on human strength, nor on successes accomplished, but rather, only on the word of God, on the cross and resurrection of Christ. In the degree in which he was being stripped of everything, at the end, even of his very words, this total surrender to Christ manifested itself with increasing clarity.
"As it happened to Jesus, also in the case of John Paul II, words gave way at the end to the ultimate sacrifice, to the gift of self. And death was the seal of an existence totally given to Christ, conformed to him even physically with the traits of suffering and trusting abandonment to the arms of the heavenly Father. 'Let me go to the house of the Father,' these words -- report those who were at his side -- were his last words, the fulfillment of a life totally oriented to knowing and contemplating the face of the Lord."
"The Servant of God John Paul II had known and personally lived the terrible tragedies of the 20th century, and he asked himself during a long time what could stop the advance of evil," the German Pontiff recalled. "The answer could only be found in the love of God. Only divine mercy, in fact, is capable of putting limits on evil; only the omnipotent love of God can topple the dominance of the evil ones and the destructive power of egotism and hate. For this reason, during his last visit to Poland, upon returning to his native land, he said, 'Apart from the mercy of God there is no other source of hope for mankind.'"
"Let us give thanks to God because he has given the Church this faithful and courageous servant," the Pope concluded. "And while we are offering for his chosen soul the redeeming Sacrifice, we ask him to continue interceding from heaven for each one of us, for me in a special way, who Providence has called to take up his inestimable spiritual heritage.
"May the Church, following his teaching and example, faithfully continue its evangelizing mission without compromises, spreading tirelessly the merciful love of Christ, fount of true peace for the entire world."
O Blessed Trinity,
We thank you for having graced the Church with Pope John Paul II
and for allowing the tenderness of your Fatherly care,
the glory of the cross of Christ,
and the splendor of the Holy Spirit, to shine through him.
Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy
and in the maternal intercession of Mary,
he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd,
and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is
the way of achieving eternal communion with you.
Grant us, by his intercession, and according to Your will,
the graces we implore,
hoping that he will soon be numbered among your saints.