Homily of the Holy Father Francis at the Holy Mass for the Centenary of the Birth of Saint John Paul II, Vatican Basilica, Altar of Saint John Paul II (May 18, 2020)

“The Lord loves his people” (149:4), we have sung; it was the response of the responsorial psalm. And it was also a truth that the people of Israel repeated, that they liked to repeat: “The Lord loves his people”. And in bad times, always “the Lord loves”; we have to await how this love will be manifested. When, out of this love, the Lord sent a prophet, a man of God, the people's reaction was: “The Lord has visited his people” (cf. Ex 4:31); because he loves them, he has visited them. And the crowd that followed Jesus said the same when they saw the things that Jesus was doing: “The Lord has visited his people” (cf. Lk 7:16).

And today we can say here: one hundred years ago, the Lord visited his people. He sent a man, prepared him to be a bishop and to lead the Church. Recalling Saint John Paul II, we repeat this: “The Lord loves his people”, “the Lord has visited his people”; He has sent a shepherd.

And what, shall we say, are the “traces” of a good shepherd that we can find in Saint John Paul II? Many! But we point out only three. Since they say that the Jesuits always point out three aspects, let's say three: prayer, closeness to people, love of justice. Saint John Paul II was a man of God because he prayed and prayed a lot. But how is it that a man who has so much to do, so much work to guide the Church..., has so much time for prayer? He knew well that the first task of a bishop is to pray. Vatican II did not say this, Saint Peter said it, when they elected the deacons, he said: “And to us, the bishops, prayer and the proclamation of the Word” (cf. Acts 6:4). The first task of a bishop is to pray, he knew it, and he did it. He was the model of a bishop who prays, the first task. And he taught us that when a bishop examines his conscience at night he should ask himself: how many hours have I prayed today? A man of prayer.

Second footprint, a man of closeness. He was not a man separated from the people, on the contrary, he went looking for people; and he traveled all over the world, meeting his people, seeking his people, reaching out. Closeness is one of the traits of God with his people. Let us remember that the Lord says to the people of Israel: “Look, is there any people that has its gods as close as I am with you?” (cf. Dt 4:7). A closeness of God with the people that then becomes closer in Jesus, is strengthened in Jesus. A shepherd is close to the people, on the contrary, if he is not, he is not a shepherd, he is a hierarch, he is an administrator, perhaps a good one, but he is not a shepherd. Close to the people. And Saint John Paul II gave us an example of this closeness: close to the great and the small, to the near and to the far away, always close.

Third imprint, love for justice. But full justice! A man who wanted justice, social justice, justice for the people, justice that rejects wars. But full justice! This is why Saint John Paul II was the man of mercy, because justice and mercy go together, they cannot be distinguished (in the sense of being separated), they are together: justice is justice, mercy is mercy, but one cannot be found without the other. And speaking of the man of justice and mercy, we think of what Saint John Paul II did so that people would understand God's mercy. We think about how he carried out the devotion to Saint Faustina Kowalska whose liturgical memorial from today will be for the whole Church. He had felt that the justice of God had this face of mercy, this attitude of mercy. And this is a gift that he has left us: justice-mercy and just mercy.

Let us ask him today to give us all, especially the pastors of the Church, but to all, the grace of prayer, the grace of closeness and the grace of justice-mercy, mercy-justice.

© Copyright - Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2020

Romana, n. 70, January-December 2020, p. 20-21.

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