By Father Michael Panicali
This past April 2 marked the 15th anniversary of the passing of Pope St. John Paul II on Divine Mercy Sunday in 2005. I remember that night vividly, watching on television in my apartment St. Peter’s Square fi lling shoulder-to-shoulder with people — many of them young adults — chanting “Santo Subito” in unison, as they called (literally) for John Paul the Great’s immediate canonization.
Being 15 years ago, the date and the amount of time that has passed completely escaped my memory — until I fortuitously was forwarded a text by my sister Tina from an anonymous source just about 30 minutes before I was to begin a noon Holy Hour, reading:
“Today is the 15th anniversary of the death of Pope St. John Paul II. He passed from this life on this date at 9:37 p.m. Rome time, 15 years ago today. We received an email from Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the papal secretary to John Paul II, and he is asking all Christians to light a candle in their home, shop or office, if possible, TODAY, and to unite their prayer to the prayers of all the angels and saints and souls in Purgatory, and all those on earth participating in this prayer event, to, through the intercession of Pope St. John Paul II, pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at the hour Pope John Paul II died, that God may have mercy on the whole world and stop the virus, open the churches and get our families and communities back to work.”
With little time to spare, after urgently sending out texts alerting people to the fast-approaching Holy Hour, I gathered together some of my John Paul II books; in particular, George Weigel’s brilliant Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, which predates the pope’s passing.
Once noon arrived, after praying the Angelus, as we have been doing here at St. Mark-St. Margaret Mary, I announced on the livestream that prayers would be lifted through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother and Pope St. John Paul II, on what was the fi fteenth anniversary of his passing.
Not only did John Paul the Great champion devoted prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy; not only did his pontificate witness the official designation in 2000 of the first Sunday after Easter, as Divine Mercy Sunday, in the General Roman Calendar; but, incredibly, John Paul II also introduced a new set of mysteries to the centuries-old prayer of the Church, the Holy Rosary.
These Mysteries of Light place beautiful emphasis on the ministry of Jesus, from its initiation at the Baptism in the Jordan to the Institution of the Holy Eucharist. It was only fitting that day was a Thursday, and so we were sure to pray those very Luminous Mysteries that John Paul II imparted to the Church.
Before the benediction I read from George Weigel’s discussion of the events of the Jubilee Year 2000:
“On the Second Sunday of Easter, April 30, John Paul II canonized Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska (1905-1938), the Polish mystic of divine mercy whose convent was a few hundred yards from the chemical factory where young Karol Wojtyla had carried buckets of lime during World War II. St. Faustina’s message of God’s infinite mercy seemed to John Paul II a particularly important one for a world leaving a century of man-made horrors, as he proclaimed:
“It is not easy to love with a deep love, which lies in the authentic gift of self. This love can only be learned by penetrating the mystery of God’s love. Looking at Him, being one with His fatherly heart, we are able to look with new eyes at our brothers and sisters, with an attitude of unselfishness and solidarity, of generosity and forgiveness. All this is mercy! … It is this love which must inspire humanity today, if it is to face the crisis of the meaning of life, the challenges of the most diverse needs and, especially, the duty to defend the dignity of every human person. Thus the message of divine mercy is also implicitly a message about the value of every human being …” (p. 880).
During this pandemic when we hear the secular world correctly preaching the value of saving lives, we cannot forget the important call, as St. John Paul II voices to us, to safeguard every human life, from conception to natural death.
This, the saint tells us, is not secular mercy, but Divine.
Father Panicali is the parochial vicar of St. Mark-St. Margaret Mary in Sheepshead Bay.