4 APRIL 2005
STATEMENT BY THE MOST REVEREND DONAL MURRAY,
BISHOP OF LIMERICK
‘THE DEATH OF POPE JOHN PAUL II’
The death of Pope John Paul is the end of one of the most remarkable pontificates
in the history of the Church. It has been our privilege to witness his powerful
presence, to have recognised his leadership in the search for Christian unity,
for peace and justice, for greater fidelity to the Gospel; we have heard his
challenging, deep and wide-ranging teaching and guidance to the Church and the
Now we, whom he served so faithfully, are joined in prayer for him as he crosses
the final Threshold of Hope. He died as the Church celebrates the day he
designated as Divine Mercy Sunday. His second encyclical was a profound and
powerful reflection on the mercy of God the Father. We surround him by our
prayers and entrust him to that mercy which he described as “the most stupendous
attribute of the Creator and Redeemer” (Dives in Misericordia, 13).
No Pope has ever been so visible and so available. In the course of his pontificate
he conducted almost 1,200 General Audiences, attended by nearly eighteen million
people. He visited 129 different countries on 104 foreign journeys. On World
Youth Days, unforgettable experiences for those privileged to be present, millions
of young people gathered to be inspired by him. He also made nearly nine hundred
visits to various places in Italy, including over 300 visits to parishes in the
diocese of Rome.
His teaching in Letters, Exhortations and General Audiences, are a treasury from
which the Church will be drawing sustenance long into the future. In particular
his Encyclicals have given us rich reflections on Christ the Redeemer, on the
Father of Mercies and on the Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life. His deep devotion
to the Blessed Virgin to whom he addressed his Papal motto, Totus Tuus, was
reflected in everything he said and wrote. He addressed major issues of social
concern and the principles of the Church’s social teaching. He pointed with
increasing insistence to the danger of losing sight of the human capacity to
seek and discover the truth, and to how profoundly dehumanising that can be,
especially in the sphere of morality. In all of this we saw the passionate
commitment to human dignity and freedom in every moment and condition of life
that was expressed in his first encyclical. If we look at ourselves in the light
of the Incarnation and Redemption, he said, this bears fruit not only of adoration
of God but of wonder at ourselves: “the name for that deep amazement at human worth
and dignity is the Gospel” (Redemptor Hominis 10).
No Pope has communicated so personally. He published several books, Crossing
the Threshold of Hope, Gift and Mystery, Arise Let us be on our Way, and most
recently in Memory and Identity. He even published a book of poetry Roman Triptych,
which includes a reflection on the conclave which will take place to choose
his successor under Michelangelo’s awesome portrayal of the Last Judgement in
the Sistine Chapel:
Lo, they see themselves in the midst of the beginning and the End,
between the Day of Creation and the Day of Judgement…
During the conclave Michelangelo must teach them – Do not forget:
Omnia nuda et aperta sunt ante oculos Eius. [Everything is naked and
open to His eyes (Heb 4:13)]
You who see all, point to him!
He will point him out… (Roman Triptych, CTS, London 2003).
The cardinals who are now gathering for his funeral will shortly be called
to exercise what he called ‘a shared concern for the legacy of the keys’.
We pray to the One who sees all, asking the gift of wisdom to guide them
in choosing the man that God points out; we ask in the words of the liturgy:
“In your mercy grant your Church a shepherd who will walk in your ways and
whose watchful care will bring us your blessing” (Mass for the Election of
a Pope or Bishop, Opening Prayer).
As we pray for Pope John Paul, we in Limerick, have warm memories of the
vigorous man who visited our diocese in the first year of his pontificate.
Honouring his memory means listening again to his challenging words. Each
layperson is ‘an extraordinary work of God’s grace and called to the heights
of holiness’. He told every member of the lay faithful, ‘you are called to
fulfil your role in the evangelisation of the world’. He spoke about the
importance of roots and about the essential role of the family as ‘the
primary field of Christian action’ for lay Christians. He told us in no
uncertain terms that Ireland must choose and that this was a time of testing,
a time of decision. We can be in no doubt that he would have wished to
issue the same challenge if had been able to come to Ireland again. His
words are even truer now than when he spoke them in 1979.
Now his hoped for return visit to Ireland cannot take place. He has set
out on the final stage of his pilgrimage to God. Before he became Pope he
had written that any life lived in the awareness of the mystery of Christ
and of the fullness of life already begun in Christ ‘is in a certain sense
ratified by death… that awareness is the distinguishing mark of (the Christian’s)
dying’ (Wojtyla K, Sign of Contradiction, Chapman, London 1977, p. 161).
The burden of responsibility that he has carried for so long has been taken
from his shoulders; his illness and frailty are over. We pray that the Lord
is receiving him into the joy and fullness of life promised to good and
faithful servants and that the final words he spoke in Ireland are now being
fulfilled for him; “Slán go deo le brón is buairt”.
May he rest in the peace of Christ.
+ Donal Murray
Bishop of Limerick
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Brenda Drumm Communications Officer (087 233 7797)