Homily of Archbishop of Tuam, Dr Michael Neary at Mass of Thanksgiving for the life of Pope John Paul II at Knock Shrine, Thursday 7th April 2005

07 Apr 2005


7 APRIL 2005




“Be not afraid!”, the antiphon of John Paul’s Inaugural Homily on 22nd October
1978, quickly became a motto for his pontificate.  This clarion call to a recovery
of Christian courage at the end of the 20th century tells us so much about the
man that was Karol Wojtyla.  And indeed one of the most impressive things about
the Pope was that he was a man utterly without fear.  

This fearlessness is a specifically Christian quality.  It explains a good part
of the attraction he had as he responded to crises of the 20th century.  It was
exemplified in his family situation and in his country through the dark night of
the Nazi occupation.  The tempering effect of those experiences was deepened by
the Holy Father’s lifelong meditation on the mystery of the cross.  His was a
cross-centred gaze on the world.  In it, fear is not simply displaced, but rather
transformed: transformed through a deep personal encounter with the crucified
and abandoned Christ, which sets those who experience it free from fear.  Pope
John Paul was absolutely convinced that the cross is the truth of the world and
not simply another option in a supermarket of “spiritualities”.  It is this
very fact that enabled him to express so powerfully the universality of his
interest, compassion and concern.

The Holy Father himself made this point in a very powerful way when addressing
the United Nations in 1995.  He emphasised that everyone present in the General
Assembly Hall knew that his defence of universal human rights was not the result
of some vague nebulous “spirituality”.  Defining himself as a “witness to hope”
the Pope had this to say about the sources of that hope and its public

“As a Christian, my hope and trust are centred on Jesus Christ, … Jesus Christ
is for us God made man, and made part of the history of humanity.  Precisely
for this reason, Christian hope for the world and its future extends to every
human person.  Because of the radiant humanity of Christ, nothing genuinely
human fails to touch the hearts of Christians.  Faith in Christ does not impel
us to intolerance.  On the contrary, it obliges us to engage in a respectful
dialogue.  Love of Christ does not distract us from interest in others, but
rather invites us to responsibility for them, to the exclusion of no one…  The
Church asks only to be able to propose respectfully this message of salvation
and to be able to promote, in charity and service the solidarity of the entire
human family”.

In these words he was calling on all peoples to take seriously the central
Christian Doctrine of the Incarnation.  For him, this meant a deep respect
for every human being’s search for the truth and a commitment to genuine
dialogue in the preaching of the Gospel.  He engaged with others in ways
that enriched the humanity of all concerned.  In this, he may have taught
his greatest lesson.   

Pope John Paul recognised that none of the false gods of the 20th century was
able to exorcise the paralysing fear that had hung like a pall over humanity
since World War I and then drifted down the decades, blighting the lives and
destinies of generations of human beings.  Calling it by its name, John Paul  
could say, and mean, “be not afraid!” because he worshipped the one true God,
whose conquest of fear he had encountered in God’s only begotten Son.  The
liberation which humanity had sought for centuries and which he proclaims,
has its source in communion with God.  Pope John Paul knew that the truths
he has taught and lived are iconic: they point beyond themselves to the One
who is the Truth.  

In many respects Pope John Paul was the person who most singularly embodied
humanity’s trials and triumphs in the 20th century.  He is arguably the iconic
figure of the 20th century because his life embodied, personally and spiritually,
the human crises of the century.  His teaching, which  emerged from a profound
philosophical and theological reflection on those crises, has demonstrated the
resilience, indeed the indispensability, of religious conviction in addressing
the crisis of contemporary society. The 20th century which began with the
confident assertion that a maturing humanity had outgrown its “need” for
religion ended with a fearful loss of confidence on the part of humanity to
control or even influence its destiny.  Pope John Paul read the scene very
accurately indeed.  History, I believe, will take some time to evaluate the
fact that he has brought humanity back from the brink of catastrophe.

When Karol Wojtyla appeared on the balcony of St. Peter’s for the first time
as Pope John Paul II, he immediately spoke of how a Pope from a “far away
country” shared with the large Italian crowd before him a desire “to confess
our common faith, our hope, our trust in the Mother of Christ and of the
Church”.  Strong Marian piety was underlined in his very first sentence.  
It was that Marian devotion that led him to Ireland and to Knock.  In my
homily at Knock Shrine on the occasion of the Divine Mercy pilgrimage last
Sunday I compared Pope John Paul to Moses, a man with a mission, a clear
vision and endowed by God with indomitable courage to lead us towards that
vision.  We thank God for giving us this shepherd and for the privilege of
living during his pontificate.  

Cardinal Wyszynski of Poland on the occasion of the election of Pope John
Paul said “I embrace you, my brother, champion of my toils and of the
struggles for the Church in my country.  Rejoice, Poland for you have
been asked to give the finest of your sons, one who has grown to maturity
amid the trials and sufferings of our nation”.  In his epic pilgrimage to
Poland in 1979 John Paul declared that “without Christ it is impossible
to understand the history of Poland”.  What he said about Poland, I believe
can equally be said about Ireland.  During this past week we have received
a insight into the church at the universal level.  Perhaps we can learn
from this and acknowledge how insular we often are in outlook and attitude
when it comes to discussing or debating Church matters in Ireland.  Meantime,
I join with you all in offering our sympathy to the people of Poland and
thanking them for giving “the finest of your sons” to the Church and the

I must admit that I should have dearly wished to be in Rome and to pay my
respects to the man whom I admired so much.  My duties here in the form of
confirmation ceremonies each day from Tuesday through to Sunday preclude my
going.  The Holy Father, I think, would say that my work over these days
confirming young people and their families in the faith is where I belong.  
His own work is done.  “It is consummated”.  For us, with his prayers to
guide us on, the work goes on.    

Eternal rest grant to him O Lord and let Perpetual light shine upon him.  
May he rest in peace.  May his soul and the souls of all the faithful
departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.  Amen.

+Michael Neary
Archbishop of Tuam

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