Pope John Paul II’s Understanding of Mercy

Monsignor Oder Reflects on the Pope’s Legacy of Mercy and Forgiveness

By Anita S. Bourdin and Sergio Mora

VATICAN CITY, (Zenit.org).- Even though Pope John Paul II was a true son of Poland who remained closely tied to his homeland and his culture, he was able to touch the lives people from all corners of the globe, says the postulator of the Pontiff’s cause.

ZENIT: There has been talk of the Holy Father’s spiritual legacy of mercy. What was John Paul II’s understanding of mercy?

Monsignor Oder: There are so many interventions of his that relate precisely to this aspect of mercy, of magnanimity, of the capacity to imitate the greatness of the love of God who bends down before mankind, who is weak and fragile. He himself said that forgiveness — and he said this in the letter he was thinking of publishing, the open letter to Ali Agca after the attack, and which then was not published — he said that forgiveness is the foundation of all true progress of human society.

Essentially, mercy means the understanding of weakness, the capacity to forgive. It also means the commitment not to receive in vain the grace that the Lord gives, but rather to produce in one’s own life the fruits worthy of one who has been graced and covered by the mercy of God.

ZENIT: He also saw forgiveness as a political tool, and that forgiveness was what moved history forward.

Monsignor Oder: Yes, absolutely, because he had a Christian, theological vision of history in which not everything can be referred solely to mere economic or political matters, where the element of humanity, compassion, understanding, repentance, forgiveness, acceptance, solidarity, love, become the essential elements to engage in a true politics of God.

ZENIT: What is the impact of John Paul II’s beatification on the Church in Poland?

Monsignor Oder: Certainly for Poland, it goes without saying, this is a milestone in our history and a very intense, important moment, but John Paul II is not a Polish phenomenon. This is the extraordinary thing, which struck me very much, and which is one of the elements of fascination of John Paul II. He was not ashamed to speak of his homeland, of its history, of using its language, of identifying himself also with the popular religiosity of Poland, to speak of his fellow countrymen. However, that man who felt so strongly tied to his nation, was also able to be a gift for others; John Paul II was a gift for humanity.

Not only Poland wept [when John Paul II died], also Mexico, and the entire world! He truly became a gift for humanity. This is precisely his greatness. Although remaining firmly his own person, he was able to receive people from all parts of the world. And because [the Pope] was so genuine in his love for his own homeland, he was able to inspire others to recognize their own identity, history, and roots. In a certain way he brought about this new sentiment in the Church of feeling oneself a child of God, and a brother to others.

There is a second aspect that relates precisely to Poland — and I must say that it inspired me — was when Pope Benedict XVI was elected. There were so many Poles in St. Peter’s Square who came for the funeral and who stayed, because Rome had become for them a second homeland, thanks in part to the Roman spirit that is so hospitable, generous. At the moment of the election in St. Peter’s Square, you could hear shouts in Polish, “Long Llive the Pope!” This truly made me understand the faith of the people of Poland. It had really grown and matured next to this great Pope who was able to live his ministry with such a strong and charismatic personality, and at the same time was able to do justice to the office itself, vicar of Christ.

Look, he was no longer, but the Church was, Peter was, the new Pope was, a German Pope, and the crowd cried out in Polish and in Italian “Long live the Pope!” This was something beautiful for me!

ZENIT: Were there detractors who disagreed with the Pope’s desire to gather the youth together in Rome for the first World Youth Day in 1985?

Monsignor Oder: There was no disagreement on the part of the Pope nor on the part of the young people, but rather on the part of those who thought in an old-fashioned way. [John Paul II] thought in a very modern way. He was a priest who sensed things. He himself said that the gift is a mystery, that a priest must not seek to be in fashion because he is always in fashion, he is always up-to-date, because what a priest represents is Christ, and Christ is always the same. That is why the real novelty that a priest bears is Christ. And he was able to convoke these young people, based on the novelty that is Christ.

ZENIT: And then there wasn’t enough room for the youth to stay in Rome! The Pope allowed the young people to sleep on the floors of the Pontifical Council for the Laity in sleeping bags!

Monsignor Oder: Who would have ever thought of a revolution of that sort? But this was seen from the first day, from the beginning of the pontificate when he raised the cross against every protocol, when he drew near to the people, against every tradition. Already seen was this novelty of his, the day of his election when from the balcony, other than the blessing, he was not supposed to do anything, and then he spoke. Can you imagine the confusion!

ZENIT: What can we tell the youth of today and future generations when they ask about John Paul II?

Monsignor Oder: I think there will be young people of the “JPII Generation” who will speak to their children as a father because, effectively, the figure of John Paul II for that generation embodied paternity. He was a father, they loved him, they argued with him. I remember, I believe it was in Mexico, a meeting where the Pope engaged in dialogue with young people: Will you give up wealth? We will. Will you give up arrogance? We will. Will you give up sex? No, they shouted. It was a dialogue, I would say, that was almost dialectical, with the young people, and yet they loved him. They didn’t put all he said into practice, but the wanted to hear what he had to say, and for me, herein lies the mystery of this paternity.

It was not simply his being able to be with them, with the youth, when he joked around with his cane, when he sang, when he would take them by the hand, all of which are beautiful gestures. However, the true paternity that he was also able to exercise was to set the bar high, because a father who loves his children cannot be content just with the fact that the youth live in mediocrity. Knowing his children, he knows they have potential, a richness. He is a father. He cannot do anything but demand, expect, wish, urge, and he did this. Maybe they didn’t always respond, but they knew that he relied on them, that for them he was a father who truly placed his hopes on them. I think this was a very important aspect.

And I personally had a moment that stuck with me since the first meeting I had with him when he came to Poland and spoke to young people there. In the midst of that Communist grayness, his visit was a first ray of light. He told the youth, “You young people must remember that you must expect a lot from yourselves even when no one expects anything from you. You must be demanding with yourselves.” And these are the words of a father.

 

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