On June 10, 2004, Pope John Paul II announced a special Year of the Eucharist, which would begin in October of that year and last until October 2005.
It was not the first special year that John Paul II proclaimed.
In fact, it followed close on the heels of the Year of the Rosary (2002-2003), which itself followed the multi-year cycle leading up to the Great Jubilee Year 2000.
Periodically, popes proclaim special, yearlong celebrations to mark important events in the life of the Church and to focus attention on particular aspects of the faith.
While the Year of the Eucharist was not John Paul II’s first such year, it would be his last. He passed away in the midst of the celebration.
At the time, some thought it significant that he passed away during a year devoted to a theme so close to his heart.
When the new pope, Benedict XVI, was elected, he continued the celebration of the Year of the Eucharist, including events planned for it, such as a World Youth Day and a special Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.
So while he had not proclaimed this year, Benedict XVI completed it.
In time, he called his own specially-themed years. The first of these was the Pauline Year, devoted to St. Paul. This year ran from June 2008 to June 2009. It was timed to coincide with the 2,000th anniversary of St. Paul’s birth, which is generally placed between A.D. 7 and 10.
The year was intended to call attention to the life and teachings of St. Paul, who is obviously a very important figure for the Church.
Pope Benedict also had a surprise up his sleeve. At the close of the Pauline Year, he announced that scientific tests had been conducted that provided evidence that the traditional tomb of St. Paul — at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls — does indeed contain the mortal remains of the Apostle to the Gentiles.
It thus seems that we not only have the relics of St. Peter, but of St. Paul as well.
Pope Benedict next proclaimed a Year for Priests, which ran from June 2009 to June 2010. It was timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of priests.
This year was intended to strengthen the life and ministry of priests in the face of increasing pressures, including the awful sex-abuse scandals.
In a letter he wrote to priests, Pope Benedict explained that this year was “meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a stronger and more incisive witness to the Gospel in today’s world.”
He also took the occasion to reflect “with heartfelt gratitude on the immense gift which priests represent, not only for the Church, but also for humanity itself. I think of all those priests who quietly present Christ’s words and actions each day to the faithful and to the whole world, striving to be one with the Lord in their thoughts and their will, their sentiments and their style of life. How can I not pay tribute to their apostolic labors, their tireless and hidden service, their universal charity? And how can I not praise the courageous fidelity of so many priests who, even amid difficulties and incomprehension, remain faithful to their vocation as ‘friends of Christ,’ whom he has called by name, chosen and sent?”
Although strengthening priestly life is an urgent priority in today’s Church, it is not the only one. Another, even greater priority is addressing the present crisis of faith.
This is clearly a subject that is close to Pope Benedict’s heart, and he has taken steps to address it, such as creating the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization in 2010.
It was no surprise then, when he proclaimed a Year of Faith, which began in October 2012 and which will conclude Nov. 24.
It coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the 50th anniversary of Vatican II.
In January 2012, Pope Benedict told the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “In vast areas of the earth, faith risks being extinguished, like a flame that is no longer fed. We are facing a profound crisis of faith, a loss of the religious sense that constitutes the greatest challenge to the Church today. The renewal of faith must therefore take priority in the commitment of the entire Church in our time. I hope that the Year of Faith will contribute, with the cordial cooperation of all the members of the people of God, to making God present in this world once again.”
Like 2005, the Year of Faith is a year in which the pope is scheduled to attend World Youth Day, and, again, it will close with a Synod of Bishops devoted to the year’s theme (the promotion of the faith).
But Pope Benedict will not be the one to complete it. That task will fall to a new pope.
And thus there is an odd sense of history repeating itself. Pope Benedict was elected during a specially-themed year proclaimed by his predecessor on a subject very close to John Paul II’s heart.
Now a new pope will find himself presiding over a specially-themed year proclaimed by Pope Benedict on a subject very close to his own heart.
It will be the new pope who goes to World Youth Day and who presides over a Synod of Bishops devoted to this year’s theme.
One cannot help imagining how, as he contemplated his resignation, Pope Benedict saw these parallels to his own experience upon assuming the papacy.
In these parallels, he must have seen the Hand of Providence.
Jimmy Akin is a Register columnist and blogger
and senior apologist at Catholic Answers.
His blog is JimmyAkin.com.