POPE JOHN PAUL II
Homily notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral Dublin, 5th April 2005
Archbishop Neil and Representative of Other Christian Churches
My Dear Friends
We have come here today to mourn and to remember. We remember a great and extraordinary figure, a spiritual leader, a holy man, a figure who changed history literally, a wise man of God who through his commitment to the truth and love of Jesus challenged all of us in our choices for more than twenty six years, a tender man who in his last weeks of suffering touched the whole world, touched all of us all and won so many hearts.
We remember John Paul II, the indefatigable defender of life. We remember John Paul II who in these last weeks taught us all something about how to die.
Before we begin our celebration let us hear two short testimonies about the significance of Pope John Paul’s life, teaching and witness.
Each of us here today will have our own memory of Pope John Paul II. He was an extraordinary leader. The mile-long river of people weaving its way around Saint Peter’s Square all day today witnesses to just how many and how varied were the lives that he touched.
He was a Pope of so many remarkable achievements: there was his commitment to a vision of Europe, not just one where the wall of communism had been broken down, but one where peoples and nations could freely take their rightful place in constructing a Europe of the future, different from the horrors of the two great wars and the two great totalitarians regimes of the twentieth century; there was the celebration of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, and the three preparatory years, a time of extraordinary renewal in the Church, during which he courageously asked pardon for the sins of the Church’s members; there were the extraordinary World Youth Days; there were great documents on faith and reason, on the foundations of truth, on the Mystery of Redemption, on the Eucharist and on the family and the social condition. He pushed the Church’s teaching on peace way beyond any other of his predecessors, both in terms of rejecting violence and protecting victims. He worked unceasingly for Christian Unity. His relations with Jews and with Israel were remarkable. He was the first Pope to visit a Mosque. He called all believers together more than once to Assisi to pray for peace.
I have many personal memories of my own, of events large and small, of great leadership and of personal kindness and thoughtfulness, of the man who ordained me bishop and asked me to become Archbishop of Dublin.
But as I was writing these words, I stopped.
I said to myself, the last thing that Pope John Paul would want us to do at this moment would be to get trapped sentimentally in looking back. He said to his own collaborators on his death-bed: “I am happy. You should also be happy”. He was always looking to the future. When the Berlin Wall collapsed he did not rest happily in the achievement, he started working on an Encyclical about how to integrate economies and people into a new European future.
I remember Pope John Paul’s parting words to me as I returned to Dublin about eighteen months ago. “Tu torni al tuo paese”: you return to your own county, but you return to a different Ireland. The Pope remembered his visit to Ireland. But his concern and interest in that conversation with me was not about the past; it was about Ireland today and tomorrow. He was concerned for the situation of faith in Ireland. He was concerned about Irish society in the future. I am sure today he would not want an Ireland looking back nostalgically at his visit, but looking forward, realistically but with courage and hope, to the future.
The best way for us to pay tribute to Pope John Paul is for us to engage his words and his teaching as individuals, as people and as a nation; to engage in a forward-looking commitment.
At Drogheda, for example, Pope John Paul cried out, with all lucidity: “Violence is a lie; violence destroys what it claims to defend, the dignity, the life, the freedom of human beings”. How should we engage with those words today? We can render tribute to Pope John Paul by unflinchingly moving forward with the peace process, putting aside for ever and on every side all ambiguities about violence. We can work to build up understanding between the various communities in Northern Ireland, but also between North and South.
But if we want to pay tribute to the Pope’s words on violence, we must also look at other forms of violence in society. In the last three months two men have been found murdered within one hundred yards of my home. Yes, the number of murders in Ireland is less than in other countries, but we cannot be happy with the level of violence in our society. There is violence in homes, violence against children, violence against immigrants, violence against gay and lesbian people, and violence even against the old simply because they are weak. There is the arrogant violence of those who wish to further impose a power won by the cynical exploitation of human life through the drug trade. The fight against violence is not just a question of law enforcement. It is a question of building up communities which stand for life. On his visit to Ireland Pope John Paul said: “Teach your children how to forgive; make your homes places of love and forgiveness; make your streets and neighbourhoods centres of peace and reconciliation”.
There are social changes in Ireland. Pope John Paul adverted to them in his address to the current Irish Ambassador to the Holy See. He talked about our success and aspirations to be a profoundly modern society within the family of European nations, about our remarkable economic growth. The Ireland I returned to is a different Ireland, but it is a better Ireland, and it has the potential to be even better. The challenge for us is to ensure that that improvement reaches all.
Pope John Paul’s teaching is impregnated with reflection on human freedom. It is that inner freedom which he personally understood was the only way to survive the oppressive systems of fascism and communism. And he realised that to survive in an individualist and consumer oriented society you need that same inner freedom. It is not just a freedom from, but more a freedom for: a freedom to choose life, to take responsibility for one’s own actions and destiny, a freedom to identify and to choose the good, to be firmly and profoundly attached to the good.
Pope John Paul bore a remarkable intuition of the centrality of the human person, and the significance of truth and freedom. He had a great confidence in the ability of human beings to use their freedom responsibly. The human person is the protagonist of human history, the free doer of good or the doer of evil at any moment in the history. But that human person is only truly known in the Mystery of the Word made flesh: “Christ the Lord, Christ the new Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling” (Gaudium et Spes, #22)
This ability of Pope John Paul to recognise that belief and freedom are intertwined struck a chord with so many young people. He was a man of clear convictions, which he did not water down. He was as Peter must be a rock, a figure of solidity. Yet he was also a Father, a friend, a caring relative, to whom young people were drawn. At times their interest arose from just a curiosity about someone totally different to them, but who radiated a serenity and conviction in manner that was seldom encountered in our times.
Pope John Paul stressed a freedom which comes from the deepest encounter with Jesus Christ. His was not an imperial desire to swell numbers. Even before enormous crowds his appeal was directed at each individual heart, at each individual person. Each was invited to realise their human freedom as service, to realise the deepest aspirations that is in each one.
We do not know what Pope John Paul II might have said to us had he been able to realise his desire to return to Ireland. He might have patiently reminded us that it is Christ who fully reveals who were are to ourselves. He would have challenged each of us to honestly ask what that means, in new ways, in a different culture, in a different Ireland.
When he visited the Irish College in Rome after his return from Ireland, Pope John Paul noted that “the youth of Ireland have understood and responded very well to my call”. And he appealed to priests and bishops: “Do not let them down!” We engage with the words of Pope John Paul by a renewed sense of evangelization and mission, not just of priests, but of all Christians, longing to open their own hearts and those of others to Jesus. We need communities of faith and prayer, communities where Eucharist is celebrated and the love of Jesus Christ is celebrated and lived.
Jesus, who revealed his mercy in accepting the cross as the path to his resurrection, shows us that t