We learned the word ” Pope” by pointing to his picture. We have seen his quotes on posters, cards, and advertisements for as long as we can remember. Maybe many of our older brothers and sisters have gone to his World Youth Days, and many of us were hoping to see him this summer in at the World Youth Day in Germany. For all of us who are younger than 27, Pope John Paul II is the Holy Father who has shaped us in the Catholic faith more than anyone. We, the Catholic youth of the world, are his legacy. In this lesson we will remember the message he gave us, and the ways that we can live up to it.
His message to Youth
From Denver to the Phillipines, Paris to Toronto we helped him break records. They were the biggest gatherings of young people in history. We were attracted to his message, because he believed in us. He had faith in our potential and hope for our greatness. When other people were saying that young people “just couldn’t help themselves” from doing bad things, he knew the power of God’s grace in our hearts and challenged us to be courageous; to not be afraid to change the world for the good. He told us:
“In you there is hope, for you belong to the future, just as the future belongs to you. For hope is always linked to the future; it is the expectation of ‘future good things’. As a Christian virtue, it is linked to the expectation of those eternal good things which God has promised to man in Jesus Christ. And at the same time, this hope, as both a Christian and a human virtue, is the expectation of the good things which man will build, using the talents given him by Providence.”
Dear young friends, it is to your prayers that I want to entrust the problems of your own families and of all the families of the world…the Pope counts very much on your prayers.
With enthusiasm and exuberant energy, young people ask to be encouraged to become “leading characters in evangelization and participants in the renewal of society” (Cristifideles laici, 46).
Never let yourselves be discouraged by evil! For this you will need the help of prayer and the consolation that is born from an intimate friendship with Christ. Only in this way, living the experience of God’s love and radiating Gospel fellowship, will you be able to be the builders of a better world, genuine peaceful and peacemaking men and women.
“You have come looking for me.”
Listening to Pope John Paul II was like hearing something you already knew in your heart, but it was the way he said it that made it new. He is the only man who could stand up on a stage in front of millions, yet make each person feel like they were having a personal conversation with him. He spoke to the multitude in Spain as if speaking to an old friend: “I am back with you again. We know one another from previous meetings, such as the one in Toronto, Canada. I embrace each one of you…I confess to you that I have been looking forward very much to this meeting with you (May 3, 2003).” On a few occasions, he had a spontaneous conversation with the crowd of youth, in an exchange between one man with a microphone, and the shouts of hundreds of thousands.
There was something about his person that drew all people to him. As he lay dying, he directed some of his last words to the youth that gathered under his window: “I had looked for you. Now you have come looking for me.” His faithfulness and selflessness were attractive and made people pay attention to him.
Even under Nazi and communist persecution or fierce criticism, he never backed down from what he believed. He helped bring down communism in Eastern Europe, and yet he acknowledges the evil that it did while it existed
He was loyal to his Christian faith, and authentic in his priestly vocation. At the same time, his selflessness touched people of all types.
He became our hero and leader not just because he was Pope, but because he sacrificed himself in order to bring us Christ. His love for all people, especially the youth, motivated him to travel without rest in order to reach as many people as possible. He knew that he was called to be the Vicar of Christ on earth, and was faithful to that call by trying to do as Christ would do. As his biographer George Weigel said: “He’s been appreciated as a man of culture, a man of great human sympathies, a man of great courage and integrity and compassion. I wonder, though, if he’s been appreciated for what he in fact was-the greatest Christian witness of the past century?”
He was a Christian first, and thus by his life he challenges us to live the same way as authentic Christians. We are attracted to him because he is like Christ, and we follow him because we see that he brings us to Christ. This is what every Christian is called to be for other people.
The two flags
Pope John Paul II saw clearly that there are two flags that fly over the world, and a battle between two sides: the culture of life and the culture of death. Amidst the darkness of a growing acceptance of abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, and other forces that threatened human life, he stood strong for the culture of life.
He believed in true love. He spoke to us of the true beauty of marriage and sexuality in a culture that often tries to make us slaves to our passions. He taught us to value these treasures and promote them in the world around us.
He encouraged others to fight on his side, because he knew that the Church is more than just the Pope and that lay people are necessary so as to win he war for Christ. “Failures to reverse the culture of death are the failures of all the people of the Church who have an opportunity to build a culture of life-and don’t,” explained Weigel. It is for this reason that John Paul II urged government leaders and all Christians to “be not afraid” in standing up for their values.
President George W. Bush, on his return from the funeral of the Pope, commented on his reflections during the ceremony: “I thought a lot about Pope John Paul II. I mean, here’s a
person who has shown that a single individual can make a big difference in history and that, in my judgment, he received his great power and strength from the Almighty. And tides of moral relativism kind of washed around him, but he stood strong as a rock. And that’s why millions came to admire and love him.”
A show of gratitude
On Saturday, April 2, at 6:50 p.m. the bells in downtown Rome began pealing wildly. The crowds raced to cabs while pulling out their cell phones to find out what was happening. Rivers of people flooded towards St. Peter’s Square for one last goodbye and thank you to the dying Pope. Unlike the silence of the night before, this night was filled with singing and cheering of a last show of gratitude. At 9:00 a cardinal came out to lead the rosary, and at 9:37 Pope John Paul II went “back to the Father’s house”.
The next few days saw a miraculous movement of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of over 3 million people who traveled to Rome for the funeral of the Holy Father. Some were not even Catholic, but felt that they “just had to be there.” They came without a place to stay, nor food to eat, and waited in line for 24 hours to see the body of John Paul II laid out. They carried signs that said “We’re not afraid.” They were not coming for a spectacle, but to say thank you to the man who changed their lives.
Our chance to say thank you
Many priests call themselves “JP2 priests” because it was the example of this man who inspired them to embrace their vocation.
In the same way, we are “JP2 youth,” called to embrace our Catholic faith and live up to the hope the Holy Father placed in us. It is a hope that Christ has in us. We have our own way to say thank you, by living out the legacy the John Paul II has left us.
Some of us will go to World Youth Day this summer in Germany, gathering with other young people to renew our enthusiasm for the faith and commit more deeply to the culture of life. The message of the World Youth Days rings in our hearts, to be evangelizers who are not afraid to teach the Gospel. Christ is the answer to the question of every human heart, and we are the ones who can give this answer to them.
John Paul II was a witness to hope, and so we are called to be the same for those around us, a sign of confidence that God is with us and cares for us. We are called to live life fully and enthusiastically, not discouraged by the bad things that happen around us. He inspires us to be courageous and generous in finding our personal vocations and following what God has created us for, knowing that with our surrender God can do marvelous things as he did with John Paul.
In this way we can carry on what Pope John Paul II has started, and be all that he hoped we could be. He has left a strong legacy, and now after his death we will prove how much he has given with his life.
- Then they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
- “I address you, young people, for you are strong, and the word of God remains in you, and you have conquered the evil one.” (1 John 2:14)
- “Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)
- “Dear young people, your journey does not end here… Continue to contemplate God’s glory and God’s love, and you will receive the enlightenment needed to build the civilization of love …to see the world transfigured by God’s eternal wisdom and love.”
- ” Dear young people, do not doubt God’s love for you! He has reserved for you a place in his heart and a mission in the world …the Church needs you, she needs your commitment and generosity; the Pope needs you and… he is asking you to take the Gospel on the paths of the world.”
Saints and Heroes:
Saint John Bosco – (1815-1888) Don Bosco was a priest who lived in northern Italy during the time of the industrial revolution, when much child labor was used. Boys often suffered the most from the hard work, slum conditions, and lack of education. Many boys lived literally on the streets and many turned to crime. Don Bosco dedicated himself untiringly to offering friendship, a healthy atmosphere, professional education, and spiritual formation to the boys who lived in these difficult conditions. He formed a religious community of men who are dedicated to the formation of youth around the world. It is one of the biggest religious congregations in the Church.
Cilla Galleazo : (1961-1976) Cilla (pronounced “Cheela”) was a teenager in Italy during the mid-1970’s, a moment when many young people in society rebelled against the Christian faith and values. She was a pretty girl who was known for her smile and her kindness. When most of her classmates declared themselves unbelievers, she declared herself a Christian with courage and humility, but in her diary she often wrote that she did not feel like her faith was strong. During her first year of high school she met a group of Catholic young people called “Communion and Liberation.” With these new friends she found she was not alone. Her faith and love grew tremendously that year, and she helped bring many people closer to Christ. That summer, riding with a friend on their way back from a discussion group, the car swerved to avoid a head-on collision with a truck. She was killed when the car went off the road. Her funeral was packed with young people who came to pay tribute to her example and love.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
(On the mystery of the Church)
- 816 The sole Church of Christ is that which our Savior, after his Resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care, commissioning him and the other apostles to extend and rule it….
- 830 The word “catholic” means “universal,” in the sense of “according to the totality” or “in keeping with the whole.” The Church is catholic in a double sense: First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her…
- 831 Secondly, the Church is catholic because she has been sent out by Christ on a mission to the whole of the human race: All men are called to belong to the new People of God…
- 776 As sacrament, the Church is Christ’s instrument. ..The Church “is the visible plan of God’s love for humanity,” because God desires “that the whole human race may become one People of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit.”
Authenticity- “walking the talk”, being genuine, without falseness, being what you show yourself to be.
Supernatural charity: Love for God. Love of others from God’s point of view.
Human charity: Kindness, respect, and generosity towards others.
Compassion – Feeling of sympathy for the distress of others, with the desire to help them
Courage – The capacity to meet danger without giving way to fear; to have the courage of one’s convictions; to be willing to put one’s opinions into practice.
Enthusiasm – Positive intensity, zeal, passion. In Greek this word means being “in God”, being possessed by God
Faith – belief and trust in God
Faithfulness – steadfast adherence to the person or value to which one is commited.
Generosity – Giving freely of our own possessions, time and or talent to someone else
Hope – Supernatural hope: Confidence in God’s gift of heaven. Confidence in God’s mercy.
Human hope: Confidence that good will happen. Confidence that things will work out well
Integrity – Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code. The state of being unimpaired; soundness. The quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.
Loyalty – Steadfast allegiance. Faithful to a person, ideal, custom, cause, or duty.
Sacrifice – Giving up or forgoing something valued for the sake of someone else or something important
Selflessness – Devotion to another person’s welfare or interests and not one’s own
Surrender – Giving ourselves completely over to God, to another person, or to a mission
Witness – Standing for the person we believe in, providing evidence with our lives, testifying to our religious beliefs
Discussion Question Options
- Who was John Paul II in your eyes? A great leader? A faraway figurehead? A father who truly looked out for all those in his care? A saint who changed the world?
- Let’s think of all the ways that Pope John Paul II has impacted us personally. In what ways has he touched us, all the way from Rome (personal experiences, teachings, inspirational quotes, youth programs, etc.)?
- How could you show that the Pope was really the Vicar of Christ, another Christ on earth? In what ways did he imitate Christ in his own life?
- How can you be strong in your Catholic faith, and at the same time kind to anyone who you meet on the streets? Does standing up for what you believe in mean cutting off certain types of people? Or does being open to other people mean watering down what you believe in? How did the Pope balance these two things? How did Christ do it?
- If John Paul II were canonized, what would you make him the patron of? What do you think was the most important outreach of his life?
Journal Writing Options
- Do you believe that your life can change the world like John Paul’s did? Is it hard to believe that he was once an ordinary student like you are now? Read the story of Karol Wojtyla, and find at least three similarities between his life and yours. Write about these similarities, and one thing you can do to follow the example of his life.
- What do you admire most about the Pope? What is the greatest lesson you have learned from his life? Write about your own thoughts on the occasion of his funeral, and how he has inspired you to be a better person.
- Divide students into four groups. Each group writes an explanation with reasons of why we follow the Pope as the Vicar of Christ and head of the Catholic Church. Assign each group a different audience to direct their explanations to: a group of Catholics who do not agree with the Pope, a group of non-Catholic Christians who do not want to be under the headship of the Pope, a group of Jews who do not believe in Christ, and a group of atheists who do not believe in God.
- Organize a tribute for Pope John Paul II for your school. Students can choose the format: video, slide presentation of photos, reading some of his speeches or poetry, hanging up posters and quotes around the school, etc.
- Make a timeline of the papacy and accomplishments of John Paul II. Assign each student a year from his papacy, and have them make a report and visual piece for the timeline.
- Divide the Pope’s Letter to Young People, Dilecti Amici, into sections. In groups, students read the sections, and pick out the 3 most important points to report back to the rest of the class.
- Go on a field trip in honor of the Holy Father. Read the excerpt from his letter to young people: ” And so my hope for you young people is that your “growth in stature and in wisdom” will come about through contact with nature. Make time for this! Do not miss it! Accept too the fatigue and effort that this contact sometimes involves, especially when we wish to attain particularly challenging goals. Such fatigue is creative, and also constitutes the element of healthy relaxation which is as necessary as study and work.” Also reference his biography, Witness to Hope, for stories of how he used to organize trips with young people.
Resources & Links:
Events from the papacy of John Paul II: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/special_features/hf_jp_ii_xxv_en.htm
Documents of the Holy Father on the Youth: http://www.vatican.va/gmg/documents/gmg_docs_en.html
John Paul II’s Letter to Young People, Dilecti Amici: