What was Pope John Paul II’s most important legacy to the Church?
I would pick two things that we mistakenly see as two separate realities, but that the Holy Father longed to see working in unison: the bishops and the movements.
They are two aspects of the Holy Spirit’s operation in the Church: The institutional and the charismatic. Christ promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would come and “will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming” (John 16:23).
The Holy Spirit first appeared to the apostles, whose successors are today’s hierarchy: Christ breathed on them in the Upper Room (John 20:22) and, at Pentecost, he sent down the Spirit like tongues of flame on the apostles (Acts 2).
But later, St. Paul wrote about the way the gifts of the Holy Spirit manifest themselves in different charisms throughout the Church (1 Corinthians 12).
John Paul fanned the flames of the spirit in both these places — and as a Legionary of Christ in Rome, I was able to see up close how his legacy in these two areas continued even after his death.
I saw it in September at the nine-day course that Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, first organized under Pope John Paul II.
The course takes place in the seminary of the Legionaries of Christ in Rome, where an average of 100 bishops stay with 400 Legionary priests and seminarians. A spirit of camaraderie filled the group as we welcomed 110 successors of the apostles from 35 nations, 17 of whom were Americans.
Until last year, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was one of the lecturers in sessions where simultaneous translation was provided in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese.
The bishops grew closer to one another — and to the Holy Father. Appropriately, last year’s course ended with a Mass concelebrated at St. Peter’s Basilica and a visit to the tomb of John Paul II.
It was fitting because the Pope dedicated his last synod and post-synodal exhortation, Pastores Gregis (The Shepherds of the Lord’s Flock) — as well as his 2004 book, Rise, Let Us Be on Our Way — to the role of the bishops. That book describes how he was first called to be a bishop in Poland.
On Aug. 27, 2005, Archbishop Dziwisz had the same experience as he took possession of the archdiocese of Krakow in a solemn Mass concelebrated by 30 cardinals, 100 bishops and 800 priests.
This is another event that I was able to see “up close,” because the new archbishop of Krakow invited a group of Legionaries of Christ from my community to join in the celebration.
Archbishop Dziwisz, now a cardinal, began his address recalling the 26 years he spent in Rome next to the “Peter of our time.” St. Stanislaw, he said, “gave direction to the whole of the first millennium of Christianity in Poland. God chose John Paul II for the second millennium, a Pope who straddled two millennia that were significant for our times.”
After the Mass, the Legionary band performed a medley of the themes from John Paul’s World Youth Days. Those World Youth Days became great acts of cooperation between the oldest institutions of the Church and the newcomer movements.
As a Legionary priest, I share the same spirituality as the Regnum Christi movement. And as a Legionary in Rome, I was in a position to see John Paul’s special regard for the movements.
To reflect on these seeds for the New Evangelization, the Vatican sponsored the International Congress “Signs of the Spirit in the 20th Century” that took place near Rome in the historic Italian city of Lucca, between Sept. 30 and Oct. 2.
Among the lecturers were cardinals, bishops, political leaders, businessmen and apostles of charity. Some philosophers, including Michael Novak and Rocco Buttiglione, participated in a round table moderated by Legionary Father Paolo Scarafoni, president of Rome’s Regina Apostolorum University. Interesting testimonies were offered by the secretaries of Popes John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II.
Some founders and co-founders of new ecclesial movements spoke about the presence of the Holy Spirit in their life and work. Among them were Sister M. Gertrude, first companion of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and the former students at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, Pa., who, in a 1967 retreat, gave origin to the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.
“Men and women of our time expect to meet persons for whom Christ is someone who changes them,” said Jesús Carrascosa, president of the International Center of Communion and Liberation, quoting the late Msgr. Luigi Giussani, founder of Communion and Liberation.
Father Alvaro Corcuera, general director of the Legionaries of Christ, read the testimony sent by Father Marcial Maciel, founder of Regnum Christi, who was unable to attend the event.
“Allowing the Holy Spirit to guide you means allowing God’s love for all mankind to penetrate you,” Father Maciel remarked. “It means living fully the Lord’s new commandment and witnessing this reciprocal love to the point of giving your life for those you love.”
Chiara Lubich revealed how the Holy Spirit has guided her throughout her 60 years as founder and leader of the Focolare movement. “I had no programs, I knew nothing,” she said. “The idea of this work was in God, the project was in heaven.”
Pope John Paul II saw their powerful testimonies as essential to the future of the Church — just as he saw the decisive work of bishops as the definitive channel through which the Holy Spirit speaks to our times.
It’s said that the Holy Father’s last prayer was a prayer to the Holy Spirit. Judging from what I have seen in the year since he died, that prayer has been answered.
Legionary Father Alfonso Aguilar
teaches philosophy at Rome’s
Regina Apostolorum University.