Great Impact and Long Lasting Significance
Adapted from a column by Archbishop Justin Rigali which appeared in the Feb. 5, 1999, edition of the St. Louis Review.
Still it continues! The sense of excitement and spirit of enthusiasm abound! Almost everyone with whom I speak—both here and around the nation—has something very positive to say about the great impact of the Pastoral Visit of Pope John Paul II to the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
The observations they make are often personal ones about the encouragement—as well as the challenge—of the Holy Father's message. They speak too of how their own faith has been confirmed and strengthened by the inspiring example of the Pope, and by the powerful witness of the many thousands of people of all ages representing the rich diversity of the metropolitan community who saw the Holy Father along the motorcade routes or were in his presence at the airport at arrival or departure, the Kiel Center, the America's Center or the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
People continue to speak of the pastoral love of the Pope which was so conspicuous throughout his time among us. They note the warmth in his eyes at each personal encounter in all the places where these occurred. They remark about the special exhilaration of his interaction with the youth at the Kiel Center, and the very moving sight of his embrace of the children when he presented his personal message to representatives of Cardinal Glennon Hospital.
So many have spoken of a deepened faith in our Lord Jesus Christ on account of the Pope's visit. So many have spoken of a renewed pride in being members of the Catholic Church! And so many have spoken of a heightened sense of solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as with all people of good will who have experienced the blessings which have been the fruit of the Pope's time in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Such observations bring to mind the words which I recently wrote saying that, for all who open their hearts to the truth of the Holy Father's words, their lives would never again be the same!
Who was not impressed by the deep spirituality of the Holy Father? He is so obviously a man of intense prayer. Who was not moved by his great heart and his unfailing spirit of determination which are characteristic of his generosity, enabling him to give of himself so completely? We were all inspired by the power of his example!
It is not too soon to say that the Pastoral Visit of Pope John Paul II to the Archdiocese of St. Louis has been a spiritual event of lasting significance for more people than can ever be counted, and—because of the extensive coverage of the media—in more places than will ever be known.
For that reason, then, I wish to offer a further reflection on the visit of the Holy Father, and the many ways he sought during his seemingly-all-too-brief time here "to ensure that the power of salvation may be shared by all."
An Experience to be Prolonged
In light of what I have noted above, it goes without saying that the Pastoral Visit of the Pope must be recognized as an experience to be prolonged. It is my hope that individuals will seek to do that through prayer and reflection on all that they heard and experienced during the Pope's visit.
I likewise encourage our Priests, Deacons, Religious and the lay faithful in our parishes to identify effective initiatives which will enable all parishioners to appreciate ever more deeply the great impact and lasting significance of this visit.
How can this be done?
Let me suggest that an increasing familiarity with the texts of the Holy Father's arrival speech at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, his homilies at the Youth Event, the Eucharistic Sacrifice and at Evening Prayer, and the other related messages which he delivered here will be an especially helpful way to prolong this spiritual experience.
The Holy Father's words—spoken in our very midst—can be a wonderful resource for reflection and prayer in group settings. Much about each of them lends itself to careful study. I am confident that ongoing consideration of these discourses will—with the help of the Holy Spirit—inevitably yield yet deeper insights regarding the truth of the Gospel, the mystery of the Church, and our identity in Jesus Christ. These insights will, in turn, become a catalyst for more intense apostolic activity on the part of individuals, families, parishes, communities of religious, and other Catholic groups such as those involved in our high school campus ministry programs and the Newman Centers serving the colleges and universities.
Could it not be effective in coming months to include on a regular basis in parish bulletins—or through other printed
resources—excerpts from these discourses of the Holy Father? In this way—and over time—all will have the opportunity to assimilate gradually the Pope's message; to better understand the dynamic reality of our belonging to the universal Church; the pressing responsibility all have to contribute to the vitality of the local Church; and our call to be a leaven in the world for good, bringing Jesus Christ to all whom we meet.
Exceptionally Relevant Words
Already I have had the welcome opportunity to take up the Holy Father's discourses for precisely this kind of prayerful reflection. Here then, I wish to draw attention to some of the Pope's words which I have found to be exceptionally relevant.
In the Holy Father's speech at the Airport Arrival Ceremony where President Clinton welcomed him to the United States, the Pope purposefully proposed a striking parallel. He cited first the historic Dred Scott case heard here, and in which the U.S. Supreme Court "subsequently declared an entire class of human beings—people of African descent—outside the boundaries of the national community and the Constitution's protection." Then Pope John Paul asserted: "America faces a similar time of trial today. Today the conflict is between a culture that affirms, cherishes and celebrates the gift of life, and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings—the unborn, the terminally ill, the handicapped, and others considered 'unuseful'—to be outside the boundaries of legal protection." The Pope's hoped-for resolution is that "America will resist the culture of death and choose to stand steadfastly on the side of life." One crucial element of that latter choice is that "the nation continues to honor and revere the family as the basic unit of society.
Then in the evening of that first day—during the You Are The Light Of The World youth event at the Kiel Center—the Holy Father assured his "young friends": "each one of you belongs to Christ, and Christ belongs to you." The Pope spoke to them about freedom, which "is not the ability to do anything we want, whenever we want. Rather, freedom is the ability to live responsibly the truth of our relationship with God and with one another." And he stressed the crucial need for prayer in the lives of all. "Prayer enables us to meet God at the most profound level of our being," he said. "It connects us directly to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a constant exchange of love."
On Wednesday morning, during the magnificent celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice in which more than 100,000 people participated, the Holy Father noted that: "St. Louis has been the Gateway to the West, but it also has been the gateway of great Christian witness and evangelical service." He cited diverse vocations and categories of the People of God, noting the numerous religious congregations which "have labored for the Gospel," the work of the lay apostolate, "the charitable activities of every kind (which) have been a vibrant part of Catholic life," the outstanding "Catholic health care services" and the Catholic schools (which) have proven to be of priceless value to generations of children." From "this immense heritage of holiness and service," the Pope challenged, "you must draw inspiration and strength for the new evangelization so urgently needed at the approach of the Third Christian Millennium."
Returning to the importance of the family, the Holy Father asserted that the new evangelization "must include a special emphasis on the family and the renewal of Christian marriage." More precisely, the new evangelization "must being a fuller appreciation of the family as the primary and most vital foundation of society, the first school of virtue and solidarity." This was underscored as the Pope proposed the provocative words: "As the family goes, so goes the nation."
Developing further the program for the new evangelization, Pope John Paul said that it "calls for followers of Christ who are unconditionally pro-life." And he renewed the appeal he had made most recently at Christmas "for a consensus to end the death penalty which is both cruel and unnecessary." The Pope also cited the need "to put an end to every form of racism, a plague which your bishops have called one of the most persistent and destructive evils of the nation." The Holy Father offered the assurance that: "In parishes and communities across this land holiness and Christian service will flourish if 'you come to know and believe in the love God has for you'" (cf. 1 Jn 4:16)
At the conclusion of the celebration of the Sacrifice of the Mass the Holy Father offered particular greetings and thanks. At that time he had a very special word for priests "who carry forward with love the daily pastoral care of God's people."
In his homily during the celebration of Evening Prayer, Pope John Paul affirmed that "from salvation history we learn that power is responsibility: it is service, not privilege. Its exercise is morally justifiable when it is used for the good of all, when it is sensitive to the needs of the poor and defenseless." The Holy Father proposed that "God has given us a moral law to guide us and protect us from falling back into the slavery of sin and falsehood." He added that: "The Ten Commandments are the charter of true freedom, for individuals as well as for society as a whole." The Pope concluded with the exhortation: "And so America: If you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, defend life. If you want life, embrace the truth—the truth revealed by God."
Before leaving the sanctuary of the Cathedral Basilica at the conclusion of Evening Prayer, the Holy Father spoke final words of appreciation and gratitude. He acknowledged the welcome "extended to me by my fellow Christians and by the members of other religious communities," and spoke of his visit to the people of St. Louis as a "moving experience." The Pope said he "would have wished to meet personally each one of the young people at the Kiel Center, and all the many other people at the Trans World Dome, and here in the Cathedral Basilica, as well as along the routes and at the Airport."
Pope John Paul added that: "In particular I wish to say thanks to the local Church of St. Louis. I am indebted to all the many dedicated people—organizers, committee members and volunteers—who have labored long and hard behind the scenes."
Echoing the Pope's Sentiments
I wish to echo the Pope's sentiments as I once again express my deep gratitude to all for the efforts each made in planning and coordinating the multiple facets and countless details which had to be addressed in preparation for the Holy Father's Pastoral Visit to St. Louis, and then while he was among us.
Nothing that anyone did in this initiative was insignificant! The efforts of each person made a difference for good.
From the outset, when I was first able to announce that the Pope would visit St. Louis, it has been truly inspiring to witness the extraordinary generosity and willing spirit of cooperation so spontaneously demonstrated by people throughout the metropolitan community. My prayer is that God will reward each of you as only He can!
In days to come, and in the weeks, months and years ahead, the challenge for all of us will be to incorporate the significant aspects and multiple challenges of the Pastoral Visit into our daily lives. May God who has begun this good work in us, bring it to completion!