The remarkable teachings and example of Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII have touched and changed the faithful’s lives in numerous ways, especially due to their support of God’s plan for families.
John Paul II encouraged families to have a Marian devotion, which he personally demonstrated, from his motto of Totus Tuus — "All Yours" — to his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (The Most Holy Rosary). John XXIII did, as well, in his 1959 encyclical Grata Recordatio (With Joyful Recollection), encouraging the devotion during the month of October.
A lovely image reflecting John Paul II’s love of Mary has inspired Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski.
On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of his episcopal ordination, the people in the Diocese of Orlando, Fla., where he was serving at the time, commissioned a stained-glass adaptation of the image for him.
A holy card the archbishop obtained at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pa., served as the inspiration for artist Lyn Durham’s rendition.
"I had found a holy card with that image of Our Lady of Czestochowa embracing John Paul II," Archbishop Wenski said. "I gave it to the artist, and she gave the rendition."
Since the beautiful portrayal was a personal gift, he brought it to Miami when he became archbishop there.
The archbishop said that, sometime after it was in his house in Miami, a picture of his stained-glass rendition was included in a story that had gone viral, claiming that the image derived from a photo taken of John Paul II when he was shot in St. Peter’s Square in 1981.
Some reports said the original photo was miraculous and even credited a Vatican spokesman as speaking about it; others said that no Vatican spokesman was involved.
"It certainly describes what John Paul II said when he was shot — that the Blessed Mother intervened and directed the bullet so that he would not die," Archbishop Wenski explained.
"It does present John Paul II’s Marian devotion," he further observed. "Our Lady of Czestochowa also shows his Polish identity and roots. So the window speaks to a lot of things — Marian devotion, love of homeland."
John Paul II, like many other Poles, had a trust in Our Lady of Czestochowa and her intercession, the archbishop emphasized: "She is the Queen of Poland and kept Poland safe through all those trials and tribulations in its history."
In turn, John Paul II reminded families that Mary would keep them safe through the trials and tribulations of modern culture, which led to his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World).
Joseph Atkinson calls the document John Paul II’s great gift to the family. "What he ended up doing was to help us understand the family theologically."
Atkinson is an associate professor at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington and the developer of the "Theology of the Family Project" (TheologyoftheFamily.com) that aims to recover the biblical vision of marriage and the family in today’s culture.
"One of the major things he showed is the ecclesial nature of the family," emphasized Atkinson. "The family is actually a form of the Church, what we now call the ‘domestic church.’"
Atkinson added that John Paul II "really means that. It’s not an analogy. We really do share in the nature and mission of the Church. He was very aware that we’re involved in a critical battle of the very nature of marriage and the family."
Indeed, John Paul II stated in that document: "At a moment of history in which the family is the object of numerous forces that seek to destroy it or in some way to deform it, and aware that the well-being of society and her own good are intimately tied to the good of the family, the Church perceives in a more urgent and compelling way her mission of proclaiming to all people the plan of God for marriage and the family, ensuring their full vitality and human and Christian development, and thus contributing to the renewal of society and of the people of God."
John Paul explained how to triumph in this battle, Atkinson said.
"The key thing is he wants to show God calls man to existence through love — and what love really is," he said.
Also highly important today, pointed out Atkinson, is the attention John Paul II gave to the pastoral care of families in difficult cases.
Atkinson pointed out that his whole pontificate focused on the family: "He was proclaiming the sanctity of life, the evils threatening life and the true nature of men and women."
John Paul II’s teachings have positively affected Darren and Alice Judd and their family in Aiken, S.C.
For one, "John Paul II influenced our coming home to the Catholic Church," Alice Judd said.
"We saw his evangelizing throughout the world, which made the Church much more attractive," she said.
"We came home to the Catholic Church to spread the Gospel," she added. Alice reverted to Catholicism and Darren became Catholic.
They admired how John Paul II defended Church teaching, too.
"We felt very strongly against abortion, but we had never heard the Church’s stand on contraception and respect for the elderly," she said. "As far as family, the first issue that really drew us in was the Church’s stand and where John Paul II stood on respect for life. The family should be open to life, with a loving environment, from beginning to end."
The Judds had three children at the time, and with this teaching, they were literally open to more life. They now have six children, ranging in age from 9 to 22.
John Paul has had an impact on their family in another way as well: One of their sons is going into the seminary.
John Paul II’s influence continues in their lives. The Judds strive to be Catholic "ambassadors," wanting "to share our life of faith in Christ with others," Alice said. "We talk a lot about our faith and like to share that with others outside the home — and we bring them into our home to share the Gospel with them as well."
John Paul II also inspired Will Frei, a seminarian for the Diocese of Charleston, S.C., and his family.
Frei remembers well how John Paul II loved young couples and enjoyed spending time with them, discussing family matters and emphasizing the importance of families.
"He had a certain persona about him, especially seen in his eyes — [and he taught] how Christ is very much involved in the family; and the love of a father and mother, husband and wife, reflects that love," observed Frei.
He admired how the Holy Father showed that love was deeper than just emotions.
"John Paul II was trying to drive this home — true love does require suffering," said Frei, who grew up in a faith-filled home.
"My dad made sure we made Sunday Mass and the holy days, and we prayed before meals," he recalled.
That foundation in prayer and faith — and seeing the love his parents had for each other — "certainly gave me the foundation in the faith to further discern God’s will toward the priesthood," he said.
The witness of John Paul II continues to influence Jerry and Diane Scott and their children, too.
John Paul II was a living witness to the world of Divine Mercy, noted Diane Scott, singling out the jail visit the pope made to the man who sought to end his life but gave him much physical suffering.
"John Paul didn’t look for that ‘I’m sorry.’ It didn’t matter. He didn’t need the apology," she said. "That mercy was part of him, and he went to show mercy. Still to this day, that’s something we talk about and focus on [as a family]. Let’s not wait for the ‘I’m sorry.’ Just be that witness and forgive. Now, we say this to the kids all the time — love the sinner and not the sin."
For her, the pope remains a living example of what "a right to life" means. That includes calling teens and single people to live chaste lives because they are temples of the Holy Spirit, introducing theology of the body to the Church and more.
"He was the ultimate pro-life person," said Diane, including at the end of his life. She brings these lessons into her work as coordinator of the religious-education program at St. Theresa Church in Trumbull, Conn.
"At the end, he was carrying that cross so beautifully and publicly — what a true public witness for carrying the cross and not giving up. It meant a lot to me, from the beginning to the end."
Father Kazimierz Chwalek, provincial superior of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy Province of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception in the United States — the order entrusted with promoting the Divine Mercy message and devotion so connected with John Paul II — is happy to hear such family stories.
John Paul II "spoke of the family as being a miniature church, where the dynamics of love provide for the well-being, learning, nurturing" of the individuals, "ultimately leading into that eternal family of the kingdom [of God]," said Father Chwalek.
He pointed to John Paul II’s Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), which Father Chwalek said explained that "what makes this relationship within family so dynamic is a deep respect, as well as mercy and forgiveness, for each other’s faults."
Father Chwalek also noted that John XXIII emphasized the necessity of this type of tenderness and kindness.
"John XXIII and John Paul II lived mercy and love — merciful love," affirmed Father Chwalek.
Another theme both saints emphasized was respect for the order God created — "which means we have to respect and live the commandments," clarified Father Chwalek.
"John Paul II would repeat, after St. Faustina, that the world would not experience security and peace without turning in trust to God’s mercy," he said.
"And John XXIII would say the world would not experience peace without respecting the divine order."
John XXIII also emphasized the importance of how peace and unity begin in families, including in Ad Petri Cathedram (Truth, Unity and Peace, in a Spirit of Charity).
"Within the family, the father stands in God’s place. He must lead and guide the rest by his authority and the example of his good life," John XXIII wrote. "The mother, on the other hand, should form her children firmly and graciously by the mildness of her manner and her virtue. Together, the parents should carefully rear their children, God’s most precious gift, to an upright and religious life. Children must honor, obey and love their parents. They must give their parents not only solace, but also concrete assistance if it is needed.
"The charity which burned in the household at Nazareth should be an inspiration for every family. All the Christian virtues should flourish in the family, unity should thrive, and the example of its virtuous living should shine brightly."
This message of family love, rooted in mercy, is clear, as both saints are to be canonized on Divine Mercy Sunday 2014.
May families continue to be inspired by the popes’ saintliness and reflections on family life.
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.