Leaders remember the inspiration of Pope John Paul II

Below, Bishop Robert J. Baker, retired Bishop David B. Thompson and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory of Atlanta give their reflections on Pope John Paul II.

The 264th Pope, Vicar of Christ, and successor of St. Peter is now with the Lord in eternal life. Pope John Paul II died at 2:37 p.m. Charleston time, 9:37 p.m. Italian time, in his private apartment.

We mourn the passing of this great and holy man, our spiritual leader representing Jesus Christ on earth, our Holy Father. And we also celebrate his life, a life of love, of witness to the hope and truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The legacy of his life has been a great one and has been recounted in the wonderful media coverage this week, but I believe the greatest witness of his life has been during his last days and years with us. He was unstoppable, a man of great spiritual energy, even in time of serious illness. I was with him, along with Bishop Thompson, my predecessor, just a little over a year ago for a 20-minute private visit that I will always cherish. As long as he humanly could, he was willing to give people like us the time of day. He felt it was important to be of support to people like Bishop Thompson and myself.

In the face of two bullets from an assassin, in the face of arthritis and Parkinson’s disease, he still felt compelled to travel to various parts of the world. He suffered tremendously, but always linked his sufferings with the sufferings of the Lord. His Apostolic Letter on the meaning of human suffering, Salvifici Doloris, given to the world in 1984, describes the reason for all the suffering he bore the past days and years for the Lord and for all of us. Suffering and that witness, I believe, are his greatest gifts to the Church and to the world. In Salvifici Doloris he wrote:

“Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: ‘Follow me! Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my cross!’ Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross,” the Pope writes, “spiritually uniting himself to the cross of Christ, the Salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him. He does not discover this meaning at his own human level, but at the level of the suffering of Christ.”

As one takes to heart these words of the Pope, one can begin to understand the reason behind the greatness of Pope John Paul II, his life, his suffering, and his death.

Bishop Robert J. Baker

Bishop of Charleston

I consider Pope John Paul II the religious man of the past century. First of all he is one of our greatest missionary popes, beginning from the time of St. Peter until now, having made more than 100 trips to various countries. He visited Africa more than any of the other continents.

He was a great teacher and was responsible for the revision of the Code of Canon Law in 1983 and for the Catechism of the Catholic Church in 1992. He has written so many encyclical and apostolic letters that universities will have whole courses dedicated to the study of his writing and speeches.

I consider him an apostle of peace. Wherever he went throughout the world, he tried to promote peace and as a matter of fact urged us not to go to war in Iraq.

He was a pope of forgiveness and sought forgiveness from those whom the church treated harshly, especially the Jewish people and victims of the Inquisition. He granted forgiveness to those who persecuted the church or offended the church. He sought forgiveness and granted it, witnessed in his forgiving the man who tried to assassinate him.

He is my pope because he is the one who appointed me Bishop of Charleston, and for that I shall ever be grateful. May he have peace and comfort at this time of his death.

Bishop David B. Thompson

Retired Bishop of Charleston

The Catholic Church has lost a most faithful Pastor and Teacher with the death of Pope John Paul II. For more than 26 years, his was a voice of clarity and constancy in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in calling humanity to live in and to work for peace, in challenging the men and women of our world to both recognize our dignity as children of God and to promote the inalienable rights that flow from that human dignity from conception to natural death.

He cared for the Church of Christ with great wisdom, zeal, and compassion as he guided the People of God in implementing the legacy of the Second Vatican Council and in preparing an agenda for the Third Christian Millennium. When he assumed the Chair of Peter on October 16, 1978, few could have envisioned the breadth of his pastoral vision and ministry. He visited and encountered more people in his missionary outreach than all of his predecessors combined. He was a giant in the religious world, and his passing brings great sorrow to the hearts of all Catholics and to men and women of faith.

In my name, in that of Archbishop John F. Donoghue, my predecessor, and in the name of all of the Clergy, Religious, and Faithful Catholics throughout North Georgia, I pray that Christ Jesus will be merciful to this most generous Shepherd of the Church and reward him even as we pray with Light, Happiness, and Peace.

Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory

Archbishop of Atlanta

Published April 7, 2005, The Catholic Miscellany