S. John Paul II Homil. 1009
1009 Monday, 7 June 1999
1. “Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation, have mercy on us”
We bow in faith before the great mystery of the love of the Divine Heart and we give it honour and glory. Hail, O Jesus; hail, O Heart Divine of the Son of Man, which has so loved us men and women.
I give thanks to God for granting today that I should visit this young Diocese of Torun and that I should, together with you, praise the Most Sacred Heart of the Saviour. With joy I thank Divine Providence for the gift of a new Blessed, the priest and martyr Stefan Wincenty Frelichowski, heroic witness to the love of which a pastor is capable. I cordially greet all those present at this month of June celebration. In a special way I greet Bishop Andrzej, Pastor of the Church of Torun, his Auxiliary Jan, the clergy, consecrated men and women and all the People of God in this land. I greet Torun, a city dear to my heart, and beautiful Pomerania on the Vistula. I am pleased to be in your city made famous by one of the world’s greatest astronomers, Nicolaus Copernicus. Torun is also known because of the efforts for peace undertaken in the course of history. In fact, on two occasions peace treaties were concluded here, treaties which history has dubbed the Peace of Torun. It was also in this city that there took place the meeting of Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist representatives which received the name Colloquium Charitativum, that is, the “Fraternal Colloquium”. Here the words of the Psalmist take on a particular eloquence: “For my brethren and companions’ sake I will say, 'Peace be within you!' For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your good” (Ps 122,8-9).
2. “Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation”
This is the Heart of the Saviour — the tangible sign of his invincible love and the inexhaustible source of true peace. In him “the whole fulness of deity dwells bodily” (Col 2,9). The peace that Christ brought to earth comes precisely from this Fulness and from this Love. It is the gift of a God who loves, who has loved mankind in the Heart of the Only-Begotten Son. “He is our peace” (cf. Eph Ep 2,14), exclaims Saint Paul. Yes, Jesus is peace, he is our reconciliation. He was the one who put an end to the enmity which arose after man had sinned, and who reconciled all people with the Father through his Death on the Cross. On Golgotha Jesus’ Heart was pierced by a lance as a sign of his total self-giving, of that sacrificial and saving love with which he “loved us to the end” (cf. Jn Jn 13,1), laying the foundation of the friendship between God and man.
This is why the peace of Christ is different from the peace envisaged by the world. In the Upper Room before his Death, speaking to the Apostles, Jesus stated clearly: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (Jn 14,27). While men understand peace primarily at the temporal and external level, Christ says that it springs from supernatural gifts, it is the result of union with God in love.
The Church lives ceaselessly by the Gospel of peace. She proclaims it to all peoples and nations. Tirelessly she indicates the paths of peace and reconciliation. She ushers in peace by breaking down the walls of prejudice and hostility between people. She does this first of all through the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation: bringing the grace of divine mercy and of forgiveness, she arrives at the very roots of human suffering, she heals consciences wounded by sin so that the person experiences inner comfort and becomes a peacemaker. The Church also shares the peace that she herself experiences every day in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the culmination of our peace. In it is accomplished the sacrifice of reconciliation with God and with our brothers and sisters, in it resounds the word of God announcing peace, in it is raised without end the prayer: “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us”. In the Eucharist we receive the gift of Christ himself, who offers himself and becomes our peace. So, with particular clarity we experience the fact that the world cannot give this peace, for it does not know this peace (cf. Jn Jn 14,27).
We praise today the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ; the peace that he gave to all those who met him during his earthly life. The peace with which he joyously greeted the disciples after his Resurrection.
3. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Mt 5,9).
This is what Christ tells us in the Sermon on the Mount. From the depths of his Heart filled with love he expresses his desire for our happiness. Christ knows that our greatest happiness is union with God, which makes us sons and daughters of God. Among the paths that lead to fulness of happiness, he indicates the one that involves working on behalf of peace and sharing peace with others. Men and women of peace are worthy of being called children of God. Jesus calls such people “blessed”.
1010 “Blessed are the peacemakers”. The dignity of such a designation rightly belongs to Father Stefan Wincenty Frelichowsky, raised today to the glory of the altars. His whole life, in fact, is a kind of mirror reflecting the light of that teaching of Christ according to which true happiness is attained only by those who, in union with God, become men and women of peace, peacemakers who bring peace to others. This priest of Torun, whose pastoral service lasted less than eight years, offered a very clear witness of his giving himself to God and to others. Drawing his sustenance from God, from the very first years of his priesthood, with the wealth of his priestly charism he went wherever the grace of salvation needed to be brought. He learned the secrets of the human heart and adapted pastoral methods to the needs of every person he met. He had picked up this ability from the school of Scouting where he had acquired a particular sensitivity to the needs of others, a sensitivity which he constantly developed in the spirit of the parable of the Good Shepherd who searches out the lost sheep and is ready to give his own life to save them (cf. Jn Jn 10,1-21). As a priest he was always aware of being a witness of a great Cause, and at the same time he gave himself with deep humility to the service of others. Thanks to his goodness, meekness and patience he won many souls over to Christ, even in the tragic circumstances of the War and the Occupation.
During the tragedy of the war his life was like a written record, one chapter following another, of service on behalf of peace. The so-called Fort Seven, then Stutthoff, Grenzdorf, Oranienburgo-Sachsenhausen, and finally Dachau are the list of stations on a path of suffering, but a path on which he was always the same: courageous in fulfilling his priestly ministry. He would minister especially to those who were most in need of his services, to those who were part of the masses dying of typhoid, to which he himself fell victim. He gave his priestly life to God and to others, bringing peace to the victims of war. He generously shared peace with others because his soul drew strength from the peace of Christ. And that strength was so great that not even death as a martyr was able to crush it.
4. Dear Brothers and Sisters, without inner renewal and without a commitment to overcome evil and sin in our hearts, and especially without love, man will never achieve inner peace. Such peace will be lasting only when it is rooted in the highest values, when it is based on moral norms and is open to God. Otherwise, when built on the shifting sands of religious indifference and arid pragmatism, it can only be short-lived. Inner peace comes to birth in the human heart and in the life of society as a result of moral order, ethical order, the observance of God’s commandments.
Let us share this peace of God with others, as did the Blessed priest and martyr Wincenty Frelichowsky. Thus we will become a source of peace in the world, in society, in the environment in which we live and work. I make this appeal to everyone without exception, and particularly to you, dear priests. Be witnesses of God’s merciful love! Proclaim joyfully the Gospel of Christ, dispensing God’s forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through your service seek to bring everyone closer to Christ, the giver of peace.
I also address these words to you, dear parents, who are the first educators of your children. Be for them an image of love and divine forgiveness, striving with all your might to build a united and harmonious family. In fact, it is the family that has been entrusted with a mission of primary importance: to participate in the building of peace, of the well-being that is indispensable for development and for the respect of human life.
I ask you, educators, who are called to impart authentic life values to the younger generations: teach children and young people tolerance, understanding and respect for every human being; educate the younger generations in a climate of true peace. It is their right. It is your duty.
You, young people, who cherish great hopes in your hearts, learn to live in harmony and mutual respect, lending assistance by your solidarity with others. Sustain in your hearts the aspiration to good works and the desire for peace (cf. Message for the 1997 World Day of Peace, 8).
Societies and nations need men and women of peace, authentic sowers of harmony and mutual respect; men and women who fill their own hearts with Christ’s peace and bring this peace to their homes, offices, institutions, workplaces, to the entire world. Both history and the events of our own day show that the world cannot give peace. The world is powerless. That is why it is necessary to point to Jesus Christ, who by his Death on the Cross has left his peace to mankind, assuring us of his presence for all times (cf. Jn Jn 14,7-31). How much innocent blood has been shed in the Twentieth Century, in Europe and throughout the world, because certain political and social systems forsook the principles of Christ that guarantee a just peace. How much innocent blood is being shed under our very eyes. These last few months have demonstrated this in a tragic way. We are witnesses to how strongly people cry out for and yearn for peace.
I speak these words in a land that in its history experienced the tragic effects of the lack of peace, having been victim of a cruel and ruinous war. Our memory of the Second World War is still vivid, the wounds inflicted by that cataclysm of history will need much time to be completely healed. May the cry for peace spread out from this place to the entire world! I wish to repeat the words I spoke this year in the Easter Urbi et Orbi message: “Peace is possible, peace is a duty, peace is a prime responsibility of everyone! May the dawn of the Third Millennium see the coming of a new era in which respect for every man and woman and fraternal solidarity among peoples will, with God’s help, overcome the culture of hatred, of violence, of death”.
With deep gratitude we welcome the witness of the life of Blessed Wincenty Frelichowski — a modern-day hero, priest and man of peace — as a call to our generation. I wish to entrust the gift of this Beatification in a particular way to the Church in Torun, so that she may preserve and make known on an ever wider scale the memory of the great works which God accomplished in the short life of this priest. I entrust this gift above all to the priests of this Diocese and of all Poland. Father Frelichowski, at the beginning of his priestly journey, wrote: “I must be a priest after the Heart of Christ”. If this Beatification is a great act of thanksgiving to God for his priesthood, it is also an act of praise to God for the marvels of grace which are accomplished through the hands of all priests, through your hands too. I wish to address a few words also to the family of Polish scouts, with whom the Blessed shared a profound bond. May he become your Patron, teaching you nobility of spirit and interceding for peace and reconciliation.
In just a few days it will be the hundredth anniversary of the consecration of humanity to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. This took place in all Dioceses through the work of Pope Leo XIII, who, to that end, published the Encyclical Annum Sacrum. In that Encylical he wrote: “The Divine Heart is the symbol and living image of Jesus Christ’s infinite love, which invites us to respond in turn with love” (No. 2). A little while ago we renewed together the act of consecration to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. We thus expressed our utmost homage and our faith in Christ, the Redeemer of mankind. He is “the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Ap 21,6), to him belong this world and its destiny.
1011 Today, in adoring the Sacred Heart, let us pray fervently for peace. First of all for peace in our hearts, but also for peace in our families, in our nation and in all the world.
Heart of Jesus, our peace and reconciliation, have mercy on us!
Tuesday, 8 June 1999
1. “Zaccheus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Lc 19,5).
Saint Luke, in the Gospel which we have just heard, recounts the meeting between Jesus and a man called Zaccheus, a chief tax collector who was very rich. Since he was short of stature he climbed a tree to be able to see Christ. He then heard the Master’s words: “Zaccheus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today” (Lc 19,5). Jesus had taken note of Zaccheus’ gesture; he understood his desire and anticipated his invitation. The fact that Jesus would go to the house of a sinner even caused amazement in some people. Zaccheus, delighted at the visit, “received him joyfully” (Lc 19,6), that is, he opened the door of his house and of his heart to the encounter with the Saviour.
2. Dear brothers and sisters, I cordially greet those present at this Holy Mass. In a special way I greet Bishop Wojciech, Pastor of the Church in Elk, his Auxiliary Bishop Edward, and also the clergy present here in large numbers, the consecrated men and women, and the People of God. I greet this land and those who live here. It is very dear to me because I have visited it many times, coming here also for periods of rest. I have been able to admire the richness of nature in this part of my homeland and to enjoy the peace of the lakes and the woods. You yourselves are heirs of the rich past of this land, formed down the centuries by different traditions and cultures. This is made evident at this celebration by the presence round the altar of God not only of Polish Bishops, but also of Bishops from other countries. I thank them for having come to Elk. I greet also the students of the major seminaries, as well as the pilgrims who have come from neighbouring Dioceses and from abroad, especially from Belarus, Russia and Lithuania. I ask you to take my greeting to all those brothers and sisters of ours who cannot be here with us.
I cordially greet the members of the Lithuanian community living in the territory of the Diocese of Elk who are present at this Holy Mass, and also the pilgrims who have come from Lithuania. In a special way I greet the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Mr Valdas Adamkus, and his entourage. I greet the Bishops, priests, Religious men and women, and also the students from the major seminaries. Through you I wish to greet all those who live in the land of Lithuania. My thoughts and my heart often turn to the visit that I made to your country in September 1993. All of us together gave thanks to God and the Mother of Mercy at the Shrine of the Dawn Gate for the unshakable fidelity to the Gospel shown by your nation in times of difficulty. During the Mass celebrated near the Hill of Crosses I thanked you for “this great witness given to God and to mankind . . . given to your history and to all the peoples of Europe and the whole earth” At that time I also said: “May this hill be a witness until the end of the second millennium after Christ, and a message for the new millennium, the third millennium of the redemption and salvation which is found nowhere else but in the Cross and Resurrection of our Redeemer . . . This is the message which I leave all of you from this mystical place of Lithuanian history. I leave it to all of you. I hope that it may always be contemplated and lived” (7 September 1993, No. 5).
Dear Lithuanian Brothers and Sisters, six years later I would like once more to remind you of these words and repeat them to you. Today I commend your nation to the Madonna of the Dawn Gate and to Saint Casimir, Patron of Lithuania. At his tomb in the Cathedral of Vilnius I prayed fervently for your whole nation and I thanked God that I had been able to go there and carry out my pastoral ministry there. I invoke the intercession also of Queen Saint Hedwig, whose liturgical memorial the Church celebrates today, and also the intercession of the Blessed Archbishop Jurgis Matulaitis, tireless and courageous Pastor of the Church in Vilnius. May faith ever be your nation’s strength, and may witness to Christ’s love produce spiritual fruits. It is on faith that you must build the future of your country, of your lives, of your identity as Lithuanians and Christians, for the good of the Church, of Europe and of humanity.
3. “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor” (Lc 19,8). I wish to return to the Gospel reading from Saint Luke: Christ, “the light of the world” (cf. Jn Jn 8,12), brought his light to the home of Zaccheus, and in a special way to his heart. Thanks to the closeness of Jesus, of his words and of his teaching, this man’s heart begins to be transformed. Already on the threshold of his house Zaccheus declares: “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (Lc 19,8). In the example of Zaccheus we see how Christ dispels the darkness of the human mind. In his light the horizons of existence become broader: we begin to be aware of other people and their needs. A bond with others is born, an awareness of man’s social dimension and consequently a sense of justice. “The fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true”, teaches Saint Paul (Ep 5,9). Opening ourselves to our fellow man, to our neighbour, constitutes one of the principal fruits of sincere conversion. Man breaks out of his selfish “being for himself alone” and opens himself to others, feeling the need to “be for others”, to be for his brothers and sisters.
This opening of the heart in the encounter with Christ is a pledge of salvation, as is shown in the ensuing conversation with Zaccheus: “Jesus said to him, 'Today salvation has come to this house . . . For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost'” (Lc 19,9-10).
1012 In our own day too, Luke’s description of the event that took place at Jericho has lost none of its importance. It brings us the exhortation given by Christ, “whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1Co 1,30). And just as he once did with Zaccheus, so at this moment Christ stands before the men and women of our own age. He seems to say to each person individually: “I must stay at your house today” (Lc 19,5).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, this “today” is important. It is a kind of summons. In life there are certain matters that are so important or so urgent that they cannot be put off or left for another day. They must be dealt with now, today. The Psalmist exclaims: “O that today you would harken to his voice! Harden not your hearts” (Ps 95,7-8). “The cry of the poor” (Jb 34,28) of all the world rises endlessly from the earth and reaches God. It is the cry of children, women, the elderly, refugees, those who have been wronged, the victims of war, the unemployed. The poor too are in our midst: the homeless, beggars, the hungry, the despised, those who have been forgotten by their own families and by society, the degraded and humiliated, the victims of various vices. Many of these people even try to hide their human misery, but we must know how to recognize them. There are also people suffering in hospitals, children left without parents, or young people experiencing the difficulties and problems of their age.
“Still today we see immense areas in which the work of Christians must bring to bear the charity of God . . . There are situations of persistent misery which cannot but impinge upon the conscience of Christians, reminding them of their duty to address these situations both as individuals and as a community”, as I wrote in my last Message for Lent (15 October 1998, 3 and 4). The “today” of Christ should therefore echo loudly in every heart, making it mindful of the works of mercy. “The lament and the cry of the poor” require us to give a concrete and generous response. It requires us to be willing to serve our neighbour. The invitation is made by Christ. We are constantly being called. Each of us in a different way. In various places, in fact, people are suffering and calling out to others. They need the presence of others, their help. How very important is this presence of the human heart and of human solidarity!
Let us not harden our hearts when we hear “the cry of the poor”. Let us strive to listen to this cry. Let us strive to act and to live in such a way that in our country no one will be without a roof over their head or bread on the table; that no one will feel alone, left without anyone to care for them. I make this appeal to my fellow countrymen. I know how much is being done in Poland to halt the spread of poverty and indigence. Here I would like to emphasize the work being done by the Church’s different Caritas agencies, at both the diocesan and parochial levels. These groups are involved in various initiatives, for example during the Advent and Lenten seasons, and provide assistance to individuals and entire social groups. They are also involved in training and educational activities. The assistance which they provide often goes beyond the borders of Poland. How numerous are the social assistance centres, the hospices, soup kitchens, charitable centres, homes for single mothers, child-care and after-school care centres, protection stations and centres for the disabled that have recently appeared. These are but a few examples of this immense “Good Samaritan” undertaking. I wish also to emphasize the efforts being made by the State and by private institutions and individuals, and by the volunteers who work in them. Mention should also be made here of the initiatives aimed at providing solutions to the troubling situation of growing poverty in different sectors and regions. These are concrete, real and visible contributions to the development of a civilization of love on Polish soil.
We must always recall that the country’s economic development must take into consideration the greatness, dignity, and vocation of man, who “was made in the image and likeness of God” (cf. Gen Gn 1,26). Development and economic progress must never be at the expense of men and women, hindering the meeting of their fundamental needs. The human person must be the subject of development, that is, its most important point of reference. Development and economic progress cannot be pursued at whatever cost! That would not be worthy of man (cf. Sollecitudo Rei Socialis, 27). The Church of today proclaims and seeks to exercise a preferential option for the poor. This is not just a passing feeling or immediate action, but a real and persevering will to work for the good of those who are in need and who often have no hope of a better future.
5. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5,3).
At the very beginning of his messianic activity, speaking at the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus said: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Lc 4,18). He considered the poor the most privileged heirs of the Kingdom. This means that only “the poor in spirit” are able to receive the Kingdom with all their hearts. Zaccheus’ meeting with Jesus shows that a rich man too can become a sharer in Christ’s beatitude for the poor in spirit.
The poor in spirit are those who are willing to use their wealth generously for the needy. In such cases, we see that these people are not attached to their wealth. We see that they understand its real purpose. Material goods in fact are meant to help others, especially the needy. The Church allows private ownership of these goods, if they are used for this purpose.
Today we remember Queen Saint Hedwig. Her generosity to the poor is well known. Although she was rich, she did not forget the poor. For us she is a model of how to live and put into practice Christ’s teaching about love and mercy, about how we must make ourselves like him who, as Saint Paul says, “though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor that by his poverty we might become rich” (2Co 8,9).
“Blessed are the poor in spirit”. This is Christ’s declaration that every Christian, every believer today should hear. There is a great need for people who are poor in spirit, that is, people who are open to the truth and to grace, open to the great things of God; there is a need for big-hearted people who do not let themselves be deceived by the splendour of the riches of this world, and who do not allow these riches to dominate their hearts. Such people are truly strong, because they are filled with the riches of God’s grace. They live in the awareness that they are receiving from God all the time and without end.
“I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Ac 3,6). With these words the Apostles Peter and John answer the cripple’s plea. They gave him the greatest gift that he could have desired. From poor men, this poor man receives the greatest wealth: in the name of Christ they restore his health. Thus they proclaimed the truth which, from generation to generation, has been the heritage of those who proclaim Christ.
1013 These are the poor in spirit. Though they possess neither silver nor gold themselves, thanks to Christ they have greater power than those who can give all the riches of the world.
Truly such people are happy and blessed, for to them belongs the Kingdom of heaven. Amen.
Thursday, 10 June 1999
1. “Who then will separate us from the love of Christ” (Rm 8,35).
We have just heard the words of Saint Paul, addressed to the Christians of Rome. It is a great hymn of thanksgiving to God for his love and his goodness. This love has found its summit and its most perfect expression in Jesus Christ. God in fact did not spare even his only Son, but gave him up for us, so that we might have eternal life (cf. Rom Rm 8,32). Grafted onto Christ through Baptism, we are sons and daughters, chosen and loved by God. The certainty of this should encourage us to persevere in our fidelity to Christ, which Saint Paul understands as union with Christ in love.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, how eloquently these words of the Apostle of the Gentiles resound in the land of Podlasia, which has given such fearless witness to the Gospel of Christ. For centuries, the people of this land have offered countless proofs of their faith in Christ and their attachment to the Church, especially in the face of changing circumstances, cruel persecutions and the severe trials of history.
I greet all who are present at this Mass, all the People of God of Podlasia united with their Pastor, Bishop Jan Wiktor, Bishops Emeriti Jan and Waclaw and the Auxiliary Bishop Henryk. I am delighted that the Bishops of Belorussia, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine are here. In a special way, I salute the Metropolitan Archbishop of Warsaw-Przemysl, Jan Martyniak, the Bishop of Wroclaw-Gdansk, and Bishop Lubomyr Huzar of Leopoli, as I do also the pilgrims who have come with him. I greet the priests, the consecrated men and women, the students of the Major Seminary of Siedlce, and the representatives of Catholic movements, prayer groups and associations of the apostolate. I greet the pilgrims from different parts of Poland, and those from nearby Belorussia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Russia.
At this moment, memories stir in me of earlier meetings with the Church of Siedlce, especially the commemoration of the millennium of the Baptism of Poland in 1996, and the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Diocese, at which I was able to celebrate the Eucharist at Koden of the Sapieha, at the feet of Our Lady Queen of Podlasia. I joyfully come among you today and give thanks to Divine Providence that I have been given the chance to venerate the relics of the Martyrs of Podlasia. In them, the words of Saint Paul which we heard in today’s liturgy were fulfilled in a special way: “neither death, nor life...nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8,38-39).
2. “Holy Father, keep them in your name, those whom you have given me, that they may be one as we are one” (Jn 17,11).
Christ spoke these words on the day before his Passion and Death. In a certain sense, they are his last will and testament. For two thousand years, the Church has moved through history with this testament, with this prayer for unity. Yet there are times in history when this prayer has a special relevance, and we are living in one of those times now. The first millennium of the Church’s history was marked essentially by unity, but from the beginning of the second millennium there have been divisions, first in the East and then later in the West. For almost ten centuries, Christianity has been divided.
1014 This reality has marked and continues to mark the Church which for a thousand years has carried out its mission on Polish soil. In the time of the First Republic, the Polish-Lithuanian-Ruthenian regions were a place where Eastern and Western traditions lived side by side. Slowly, however, there emerged the effects of the division which, as is well known, split Rome and Byzantium in the middle of the eleventh century. Yet gradually the understanding of the need to rebuild unity matured, especially after the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century. The year 1596 saw the historic event known as the Union of Brest. From that time, in the territories of the First Republic, and especially in the Eastern territories, the number of Dioceses and parishes of the Greek-Catholic Church increased. Although preserving the Eastern tradition in the liturgy, in discipline and in language, these Christians remained in union with the Apostolic See.
The Diocese of Siedlce, where we are today, and especially the area of Pratulin, is the place that bears particular witness to that historic process. It was here the confessors of Christ belonging to the Greek-Catholic Church, Blessed Wincenty Lewoniuk and his twelve companions, were martyred.
Three years ago, at their Beatification in Saint Peter’s Square in Rome, I said that “they witnessed to an unshakeable fidelity to the Lord of the vineyard. They did not disappoint him, but staying united to Christ as branches to the vine they brought forth the desired fruits of conversion and holiness. They persevered, even at the cost of the supreme sacrifice. As faithful 'servants' of the Lord, trusting in his grace, they bore witness to their membership of the Catholic Church in fidelity to their Eastern tradition. With a gesture so generous, the martyrs of Pratulin defended not only the holy place of worship in front of which they were slaughtered but also the Church of Christ entrusted to the Apostle Peter, of which they felt themselves to be living stones” (6 October 1996).
The Martyrs of Pratulin defended the Church, which is the vineyard of the Lord. They remained faithful to the Church to the very end and they did not yield to the pressures of the world of their time, which for that precise reason hated them. In their life and in their death, Christ’s request in the Priestly Prayer has been fulfilled: “I have given them your word; and the world has hated them . . . I do not pray that you take them from the world, but that you keep them from the evil one . . . Consecrate them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth” (Jn 17,14-15,17). They bore witness to their fidelity to Christ in his holy Church. In the world in which they lived they sought courageously to defeat, by means of truth and goodness, the evil that was spreading ever more widely, and lovingly they strove to calm the hatred that was raging. Like Christ, who offered himself in sacrifice for them, to consecrate them in the truth – so did they offer their lives for the sake of faithfulness to Christ’s truth and defence of the Church’s unity. These simple people, fathers of families, chose at the critical moment to suffer death rather than yield to pressure in a way untrue to their conscience. “How sweet it is to die for the faith” – these were their last words.
We thank them for their witness which should become the heritage of the entire Church in Poland for the third millennium which is now so near. They made their great contribution to the building of unity. Through the generous sacrifice of their lives, they kept full faith with the cry of Jesus to his Father: “keep them in your name, those whom you have given me, that they may be one as we are one”. By their death they confirmed the commitment to Christ of the Catholic Church of Eastern tradition. The same spirit sustained the countless faithful of the Byzantine-Ukrainian Rite, Bishops, priests and lay people, who during forty-five years of persecution remained faithful to Christ, preserving their identity as a Church. In this witness, fidelity to Christ is interwoven with fidelity to the Church and becomes a service of unity.
3. “As you, Father, sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (cf. Jn Jn 17,18).
The Martyrs of Pratulin bore witness before the world to their faith, reminding us that Christ called and sent all his disciples, so that through the centuries, to the end of time, they would proclaim the coming of his Kingdom. This universal call to witness to Christ was recalled very clearly by the Second Vatican Council, in the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity: “It is the Lord himself...who is once more inviting all the laity to unite themselves to him ever more intimately, to consider his interests as their own, and to join in his mission as Saviour” (No. 33). This invitation by the Council is especially pertinent now with the coming of the third millennium. It is the call of Christ, towards the end of the twentieth century, made through the mouth of the Council Fathers not only to Bishops, priests and religious women and men, but to all his disciples. Pointing to the example of the thirteen men of Pratulin, Christ is addressing this call in a special way to us today.
More than ever now there is a need for a genuine witness of faith, made visible through the life of the lay disciples of Christ, men and women, young and old. There is a need for committed witness to fidelity to the Church and responsibility towards the Church, which for twenty centuries has brought salvation to every people and nation, announcing the immutable teaching of the Gospel. Humanity now faces difficulties of various kinds, problems and violent changes; often it knows dramatic convulsions and lesions. In such a world, many people, especially the young, feel lost and wounded. Some fall victim to sects and travesties of religion, or to manipulations of the truth. Others succumb to different forms of slavery. Attitudes of selfishness, injustice and insensitivity to the needs of others become more widespread.
The Church faces these and other challenges of our time. It wants to offer people effective help and therefore needs the commitment of lay faithful who, under the guidance of their Pastors, must take an active part in the Church’s saving mission.
Dear Brothers and Sisters, through holy Baptism you have been grafted on to Christ. You form the Church, his Mystical Body. Through you, Christ wants to act in the power of his Spirit. Through you, he wants “to preach good news to the poor . . . to proclaim release to captives and new sight to the blind”. Through you, he wants “to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour” (cf. Lk Lc 4,18-19). Faithful to your lay identity and living in the world, you can actively and effectively transform the world in the spirit of the Gospel. May you be the salt which gives life the flavour of Christianity. May you be the light which shines in the darkness of indifference and egoism.
In the Letter to Diognetus we read that “what the soul is to the body, Christians are for the world. As the soul infuses all parts of the body, so too are Christians scattered in every city of the world” (2:6). The new evangelization puts to us great challenges. My Predecessor, Pope Paul VI, wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi: “The [laity’s] field of evangelizing activity is the vast and complicated world of politics, society and economics, but also the world of culture, of the sciences and the arts, of international life, of the mass media. It also includes other realities which are open to evangelization, such as human love, the family, the education of children and adolescents, professional work, suffering” (No. 70).
1015 I note with great joy that in Poland there is a lively growth of Catholic Action, various kinds of Catholic organizations, associations and movements, youth movements among them, in the first place the Catholic Youth Association and the Light-Life movement. It is a new breathing of the Holy Spirit upon our fatherland. Let thanks be given to God for this. Be faithful to your Christian vocation. Be faithful to God and to Christ living in the Church.
4. Today we venerate the relics of the martyrs of Podlasia and we adore the Cross of Pratulin which was the silent witness of their heroic fidelity. They held this Cross in their hands and they bore it in the depth of their hearts, as a sign of love of the Father and of the unity of the Church of Christ. The Cross gave them strength to bear witness to Christ and his Church. They showed forth the truth of Saint Paul’s words in today’s liturgy: “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rm 8,32). Through their death, they became a special part of the great heritage of the faith, from the time of Saint Adalbert, Saint Stanislaus and Saint Josafat until our own day.
In Poland, a countless number of people suffered for the Cross of Christ and bore the greatest sacrifices for it. Often in its history, our nation had to defend its own faith and endure oppression and persecution for fidelity to the Church. The post-War period in particular was a time of especially intense struggle against the Church, waged by a totalitarian system. The attempt was made then to forbid the teaching of religion in schools; the public display of faith was made difficult, as was the building of churches and chapels. How many sacrifices had to be made, what courage was needed to keep our Christian identity intact. Yet no one succeeded in removing the Cross, that sign of faith and love, from personal and social life, because it was deeply rooted in the soil of people’s hearts and consciences. It became for the nation and for the Church a wellspring of strength and a sign of unity among people.
The new evangelization needs true witnesses of faith. It needs people rooted in the Cross of Christ and ready to accept sacrifice for the sake of the Cross. Authentic witness to the life-giving power of the Cross is given by those who, in its name, overcome in themselves sin, egoism and every evil, and want to imitate the love of Christ to the very end.
As in the past, the Cross must continue to be present in our lives as a clear pointer to the path to follow and as a light which illumines our whole being. May the Cross, the very form of which unites heaven and earth and men among themselves, flourish in our land and become a great tree laden with the fruits of salvation. May it bring forth new and courageous proclaimers of the Gospel, who love the Church and take responsibility for the Church, true heralds of the faith, a breed of new men. May they be the ones to light the torch of faith and to carry it burning brightly across the threshold of the third millennium.
Cross of Christ, to you be praise.
We hail you in every age,
from you there spring power and strength,
in you our victory!
S. John Paul II Homil. 1009