Remembering John Paul II – Homily and Reflection of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

01 Apr 2006


1 APRIL 2006




I remember well the evening of the 1st April last year, as the news had just broken that
the Pope John Paul’s health had entered into a critical stage and it had become clear that
he was not going to live long.

I had announced that I would celebrate the regular Mass here in the Pro-Cathedral in the
evening. It was to be a simple Mass. That Mass turned out to be truly remarkable. Not for
years was the Church so full of ordinary believers. It was not a State occasion, simply
a moment in which about two thousand people, young and old, called into this Church without
pretence or formality simply to pray. They came to pray as Christians had done throughout
the centuries as successors of Peter found themselves in sickness or suffering. “Earnest
prayer for [Peter] was made to God by the whole Church” (Acts. 12:5).

Those who came to the Pro-Cathedral that evening wanted to pray for a man who had in some
way touched their lives, who knows in what manner. Some might have remembered his visit
to Ireland – but there were many people there that evening under thirty years old who would
have had no personal memory of the Papal visit.

I could spend the entire evening here handing out statistics about the activities of Pope
John Paul. I could recall how many pages he had written in speeches, homilies and documents.
I could note how many miles he travelled, about how many people attended functions over
which he presided. It would be hard to find anyone who could match those statistics. Pope
John Paul was truly one of the great people of our times.

But the people were in the Pro-Cathedral last year above all to remember the person that
had made an impact on their lives, by the way he faced life and very especially by the way
he faced death. The final weeks of his life changed not just many of the pre-prepared
obituaries that the media had written year earlier and which they kept periodically updated.
People of all faiths were impressed by the serene manner in which Pope John Paul faced death
publicly and with openness.

As he grew weaker over the years, there were times when you could see his irritation at the
fact that his body was no longer responding to the commands of his brain with the same energy
as before. He accepted decreased mobility, but he kept on the move. He showed that even
in deepest suffering he still desired to carry out the mission that he had received from
the Lord, and to carry it on until the last. He recognised that the Lord had called him
to carry out his mission through suffering. His human weakness became then an extraordinary
instrument through which he would witness to the strength of the Lord which he allowed to
work through him.

In his Apostolic Letter <>i>Salvifici Doloris Pope John Paul wrote: “[Jesus] does not
answer the human question about the meaning of suffering in the abstract. We hear Christ’s
saving answer to the question of suffering as we ourselves gradually becomes sharers in
the sufferings of Christ” (# 26). Pope John Paul II realised the meaning of these words in
his own flesh.

This Pope who showed such dynamism was paradoxically slowly struck by a series of illnesses
which would touch him first in his movement, then in the very expression of his face, then
in the latter days even in his ability to speak. But there was no holding him back in his
ministry, even until the Wednesday before he died when against all advice he appeared at
his window so as not to leave disappointed a large group of young people gathered in Saint
Peter’s Square.

In his homily at the funeral of Pope John Paul II, Cardinal Ratzinger spelt out the manner
in which mission and suffering were intertwined in Pope John Paul’s life. “In the first
years of his pontificate, still young and full of energy, the Holy Father went to the very
ends of the earth, guided by Christ. But afterwards, he increasingly entered into the
communion of Christ’s sufferings; increasingly he understood the truth of the words:
“Someone else will fasten a belt around you.” And in this very communion with the suffering
Lord, tirelessly and with renewed intensity, he proclaimed the Gospel, the mystery of that
love which goes to the end (cf. Jn 13:1)”

Anyone who has had even a superficial acquaintance with Pope John Paul knows how much he
is a man of prayer. It was obvious in the way he prepared for and celebrated Mass. On
his apostolic journeys he would rise to pray in the early hours before a gruelling full
day programme. His rosary was always at the ready, in the car, on a helicopter, indeed
even as meetings got into their less interesting moments. Pope John Pail II was impatient
to be close to the Lord. His entire routine was built around a discipline of prayer.

Pope John Paul II always felt under a very special protection of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
He lived life and his sufferings as another expression of his total dedication, his Totus

Returning to that funeral homily, Cardinal Ratzinger said of Pope John Paul that “he found
the purest reflection of God’s mercy in the Mother of God. He, who at an early age had lost
his own mother, loved his divine mother all the more. He heard the words of the crucified
Lord as addressed personally to him: “Behold your Mother.” And so he did as the beloved
disciple did: he took her into his own home”. And from the mother he learned to conform
himself to Christ.

Pope John Paul set out then a range of perspectives which should guide us on our path of
holiness. His ministry was one of provoking all of us, in the Church or outside of it,
to ask themselves the question that was proposed in today’s Gospel by the Greeks: “Sir,
we would like to see Jesus”. His entire ministry was one in which he served the Lord.
I have never encountered another person so focused on his mission of witnessing to Jesus,
in such a consistent and untiring way. He was close to Jesus in this life, may he come
to our assistance now that he has surely attained the reward of his efforts with the Lord
for ever.

Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 1st April 2006

Each of us has his or her personal memories of Pope John Paul II. I was in Saint
Peter’s Square on the day on which he was elected and when he appeared for the first
time as Pope on the Balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica. I was in Saint Peter’s Square
on the morning last year when his body was carried for the final time back into Saint
Peter’s Basilica for burial.

Naturally I remember that it was Pope John Paul who appointed me Bishop and who himself
ordained me Bishop in Saint Peter’s Basilica in 1999. It was Pope John Paul II who
then asked me some years later to return here to Dublin as Archbishop.

I have many memories of his personal warmth and kindness. He was someone who always
recognised and thanked you for any service you did for him. I remember his warmth at
table, but also the way in which every meal was clearly a working session, a way in
which to explore how the mission of the Church could be developed. I remember his
extraordinary dedication to his own mission, even as his health began to wane.

I remember the day on which Pope John Paul was shot. Only a few days beforehand I had
come back from Poland from my first visit there. I met the Pope on the Sunday afternoon
and he immediately joked: “You were in Poland and you never told me, you must tell me
your impressions”. Three days later, I saw him again just as he entered Saint Peter’s
Square. Minutes later he was shot.

Each of us has his or her memories of Pope John Paul II. I was struck by recent reports
of a book saying how the Pope’s doctors had tried to hide his illness from the world for
a number of years. That they may well have done. But every move of Pope John Paul was
covered by television cameras. There was never any way in which his suffering could be
kept hidden. He made no attempt to hide his illness as it gradually grew on him. He
recognised that the Lord had called him to carry out his mission through suffering.
His human weakness became then an extraordinary instrument through which he would witness
to the strength of the Lord which he allowed to work through him.

I have memories of Pope John Paul’s concern for his own country especially at the moments
of greatest tension. I remember his concern for peace worldwide. For him peace was a
gift of God which we had to invoke on our knees. I remember how at the height of the
nuclear threat, he called religious leaders to Assisi to pray for peace. I remember
when the situation in the Balkans was at its most critical he called for religious
leaders of Europe to pray to end war at the heart of our continent.

The attendance of so many world leaders at his funeral was an indication of the respect
they had for his political insight. Pope John Paul II however was not a politician.
He was above all a pastor, a priest and a Bishop. I can remember watching the extraordinary
energy with which Sunday after Sunday he headed out of the Vatican to a different Parish
in his diocese of Rome and seeing him return, tired but rejuvenated, at times late into
the evening, having met all the various groups in the parish.

I remember his concern for vocations. He regularly visited the Roman Seminary. The number
of seminarians increased significantly during his pontificate. Whenever he could he met
with groups of seminarians. I pray especially today as Archbishop of Dublin for a
renewed response by young people to the call to serve God in the ministerial priesthood
or in religious life. The situation is grave. Last year was the first year in history
in which we had no priestly ordination for the diocese of Dublin. We need new priests.

May the dedication of Pope John Paul II to his mission be something which inspires all
of us – lay and clerical, women and men, young and old – to renew our commitment to our
Christian vocation and to witness to Jesus Christ within the Church and within society.


Further information:
Annette O Donnell
Communications Office
Archbishop’s House
Dublin 9
Telephone: (01) 836 0723
Facsimile: (01) 836 0793