Benedict XVI: John Paul II is not a moral rigorist, he showed forth the Mercy of God

18 May 2020
Pope John Paul II meeting Mehmet Ali Ağca in Rome's Rebibbia Prison. Image: Wikipedia.


It is finally, beyond this objective historical significance, indispensable for everyone to know that in the end God’s mercy is stronger than our weakness. Moreover, at this point, the inner unity of the message of John Paul II and the basic intentions of Pope Francis can also be found: John Paul II is not the moral rigorist as some have partially portrayed him. With the centrality of divine mercy, he gives us the opportunity to accept moral requirement for man, even if we can never fully meet it – highlighted Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in his letter do card. Stanisław Dziwisz for the 100th anniversary of the birth of St. John Paul II.

The Pope emeritus notes, that Let us leave open the question of whether the epithet „the great” will prevail or not. It is true that God’s power and goodness have become visible to all of us in John Paul II. In a time when the Church is again suffering from the oppression of evil, he is for us a sign of hope and confidence” – highlighted the Pope Emeritus.

Benedict XVI reminds us that Karol Wojtyla was born at a time when Poland regained its independence, which gave birth to great hope, but also demanded much hardship, as the new State, in the process of Her reorganization, continued to feel the pressure of the two Powers of Germany and Russia..” ” Of course, Karol not only studied theology in books but also through his experience of the difficult situation that he and his Country found itself in. This is somewhat a characteristic of his whole life and work. He studied books but the questions that they posed became the reality that he profoundly experienced and lived. As a young Bishop – as an Auxiliary Bishop since 1958 and then Archbishop of Kraków from 1964 – the Second Vatican Council became the school of his entire life and work” – wrote the Pope Emeritus.

He added that at the time of the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła as successor of Saint. Peter, the church was in a dramatic situation. „The deliberations of the Council had been presented to the public as a dispute over the Faith itself, which seemed to deprive the Council of its infallible and unwavering sureness”. „Therefore, in essence, an almost impossible task was awaiting the new Pope. Yet, from the first moment on, John Paul II aroused new enthusiasm for Christ and his Church. His words from the sermon at the inauguration of his pontificate: “Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors for Christ!” This call and tone would characterize his entire pontificate and made him a liberating restorer of the Church. This was conditioned by the fact that the new Pope came from a country where the Council’s reception had been positive: one of a joyful renewal of everything rather than an attitude of doubt and uncertainty in all” – emphasizes Benedict XVI.

He also reminded that Saint Pope John Paul II “traveled the world, having made 104 pastoral voyages, proclaiming the Gospel wherever he went as a message of joy, explaining in this way the obligation to defend what is Good and to be for Christ”. „In his 14 Encyclicals, he comprehensively presented the faith of the Church and its teaching in a human way. By doing this, he inevitably sparked contradiction in Church of the West, clouded by doubt and uncertainty” – he stressed.

The Pope Emeritus also recalls his own personal reflection, remembering the situation, where St. John Paul II suggest  to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which he, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger headed, that on dominica in albis, which traditionally falls in the week after Easter, the whole church celebrate the new feast day, that of the Divine Mercy. “We responded negatively because such an ancient, traditional and meaningful date like the Sunday “in Albis” concluding the Octave of Easter should not be burdened with modern ideas. It was certainly not easy for the Holy Father to accept our reply. Yet, he did so with great humility and accepted our negative response a second time. Finally, he formulated a proposal that left the Second Sunday of Easter in its historical form but included Divine Mercy in its original message.

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With thanks to the Polish Bishop’s Conference.  

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