John Paul’s Cross and Light

“Giovanni Paolo!” shouted 5,000 children of Catholic Action from St. Peter’s Square on Jan. 30. It was a sunny day, but the freezing wind was scourging us mercilessly.

John Paul II opened the window of his office with a big smile. Next to the kids, I saw the Pope waving his hands. He was visibly happy and healthy. Yet, he showed flu-like symptoms — he read his address with a hoarse voice and had trouble breathing.

His Sunday message was about peace. “Injustice must be overcome with justice,” he said. “Lies with truth, revenge with forgiveness, hatred with love.”

We felt cold. I thought the Pope had to feel even colder, due to his weak physical condition and the fact that the wind blew colder at the height of his balcony.

He didn’t care, though. He spent some 20 minutes reading his meditation and greeting the pilgrims. At his right and left, two children of Catholic Action set two doves free from the window of his study, to mark the end of January, “a month of peace” for youngsters of the ecclesial movement.
At first, the doves did not want to leave the papal apartments. (Maybe it was too cold for them, too.) With an amused smile, the Holy Father waved his hands so they would take off.

In the evening, the Pope suffered from the flu and had to cancel his appointments for the next couple of days. Thus, he shared the fate of many Italians, victims of the flu epidemic during a severe cold wave.

“Since I, too, have shared the experience of illness several times in recent years,” the Pope said in his 2001 World Day of the Sick message, “I have come to understand more and more clearly its value for my Petrine ministry and for the Church’s life itself.”

Consecration Mass

Three days later, the Vicar of Christ was at the Gemelli Hospital and could not preside over the traditional presentation of the Lord’s Mass for the Religious and Consecrated People in the Church. The Eucharist was celebrated by Archbishop Franc Rodé, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.

Thousands of black, blue, white and brown cassocks and habits filled St. Peter’s Basilica. The Mass began with the Liturgy of the Light: In the midst of the basilica’s darkness, thousands of little flames shone forth. The high-pitched voices of the children of St. Peter’s choir sang Cardinal Newman’s inspiring prayer: “Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead thou me on!”

Then, we renewed our consecration to the Lord, symbolized by the candle we held in our hands. As the wax of a candle is consumed by its flame in order to shed light, so consecrated people are called to spend themselves giving the light of Christ to others.

John Paul II wasn’t there this time. His body was consumed by his sickly and frail condition. His light shone forth from the darkness of his hospital bedroom.

 “The Pope, who has written and delivered the largest number  of encyclicals and speeches, is now almost incapable of writing and speaking,” wrote Italian journalist Vittorio Messori in the Feb. 3 issue of Il Corriere della Sera. “But he seems to be now delivering his most convincing homily — that which comes from the pain accepted in a Christian way, that is, in a transfigured way.”

The Lord’s transfiguration foreshadowed, in fact, his Passion and death. His cross led to his resurrection. Christ’s light shone in the darkness of his suffering.

Recently, Christ’s vicar is more visibly identifying himself with whom he represents. His cross may be heavier, but his light is  shining even brighter.

We expect to see him soon greeting pilgrims from his papal apartments, giving himself to all the faithful. But we will not forget the message of his “most convincing homily.” The light shines brighter in the darkness of the cross.

Legionary of Christ Father Alfonso Aguilar teaches philosophy at Regina Apostolorum Pontifical College in Rome. [email protected]