This week, as we celebrate Pope St. John Paul II’s Feast Day (October 22), we reflect on the impact his life continues to have on the Church.
By: Deacon Marques Silva, Director, Office of Child Protection and Safety
Oddly, I remember as an 8-year-old seeing the smoke rise in St. Peter’s Square the day that Pope St. John Paul II was elected Bishop of Rome. I could never have imagined the influence he would have on me, my family or the Church.
I also had the opportunity to see him up close and personal (if by “personal” we mean I was at the Mass he celebrated) at the 1993 World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. Hearing him, seeing him – even at a distance, he inspired within me a desire for a deeper prayer life, a zeal for the work of evangelization, the study of what we now call the “Theology of the Body” and a desire for my marriage and family to witness to life in a culture of death. Most of all, he filled my heart with the words from his first homily as Pope, “Be not afraid!” with the surety that Our Lady would always be at my side. But I have always been concerned with how I would pass what I received to my children.
Two weekends ago, I had the privilege of meeting a group of young women at Franciscan University. Their household (like a Catholic sorority – specifically dedicated to Church teaching, living an intentional life in common, the liturgy and prayer – cf. Acts 2:42), Madonna of the Streets (MOS), reinvigorated me by their witness of apostolic zeal to serve. Frankly, there was something familiar that I just couldn’t place.
It turns out that more than 150 young women have passed through this household since the spring of 2001. Pope St. John Paul II is their role model who guides their efforts by his “heroic example, inspirational words, and abundant love by which he led the New Evangelization.” Before they are received into the household, they must choose and commit to a ministry on campus and agree to the terms of the MOS covenant. Once a month, they also get up early on a Saturday morning and travel to an abortion mill to pray peacefully for the unborn, mothers and staff. And then I realized what was so familiar. It was the quote used as a border just below the ceiling in the MOS’ Common Room:
“Do not be afraid to go out onto the streets and into public places, like the first apostles who preached Christ and the Good News of salvation in the squares of cities, towns, and villages.” —Pope St. John Paul II, World Youth Day, Denver, 1993
I was only 23 when I heard JPII say these words. That same zeal to take to the streets, I saw in the young women’s eyes as they gathered together Saturday evening for prayer and song to open the Lord’s Day.
When my kids were younger, I wondered how I would inspire them with the same spirit that JPII inspired in me. It seems that he took care of that for me. I met these young women because my eldest daughter is a member of this household. What impressed me the most was hearing them asking through song, JPII’s intercession for them in the same manner St. Catherine of Siena did by tenderly addressing the popes of her day as “Papa!”
I think we have yet to realize the full scope of Pope St. John Paul II’s influence on the world. He passed into glory on April 2, 2015 and he still inspires our youth – my children – toward the New Evangelization. Thank you, Holy Father. Please pray that we may live out your words, “Be not afraid!” and that we would “open the windows of our hearts” to the glory of the Gospel.