After about two month of waiting, on the 18th of May, churches that have been closed to avoid the spread of the virus are reopening their doors. It is a nice coincidence that we celebrate the centenary of Saint John Paul II’s birthday.
Why is Saint John Paul II important for us Hungarians? Why do we feel him close to us even today? Why is it important to pay attention to his writings and recorded speeches? Many of us may have met him at his visit in Győr in ’96, which was one of his many journeys taken as a pope. Him being a pilgrim pope, he made pilgrimages to very far ends of the world, bringing hope to millions of people. He is also close to us Hungarians, as he is the son of the Polish Nation, which historically has had a good relationship with our country. He himself also had bonds to Hungarians, as his civil name, Carol, was given after Charles IV, as his father was a committed devotee to our last king, and served as an army officer in the army of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.
The titles of the Polish-Italian historic films commemorating his life, give a brief overview of his life before and after becoming a pope as well: ’’Carol, the Man who Became a Pope” presents his life from his university years (1939), until his election for pope in 1978, and the second part: “The Pope Who Remained a Man,’’ describes him well as being a real human and practical pope. The screenplay of the Italian-Polish historical film was written by Giacomo Battiato based on the book by Gian Franco Svidercoschi: “Stories about Carol – the unknown life of John Paul II.”
Karol Wojtyla was born in Wadowice, Poland. His life did not lack sacrifices- he lost his family members early on, after he had to live, work, and fight for peace through the horrors beating down Europe. Neither the dictatorship of Nazism nor of Communism avoided Poland, just like it did not avoid our country. Wojtyla had wise and calm standards that enabled him to be a ‘calm force’ both as a civilian and later as a pope in these vicissitudes, whether as a student in his theater groups, or as a teacher, or as a priest being the leader of the faithful entrusted to him. Thanks to this ‘calm force,’ he was able to stand up to the injustices of distorted false social systems. It is no coincidence that there were a number of assassinations during his tenure. One of the assassination attempts was committed against him on May 14, 1981, which he survived and forgave his perpetrator. His diplomatic character and his stance helped Poland and Eastern-Central-Europe to be freed from the opressive systems, and to minimize the loss of our countries.
He always stood for truth and straightness as a universal direction. “Do not hesitate to call out the truth and the evil.” He was driven by defending human rights and respecting freedom of mankind.’’ People are free, their freedom is real if it is aligned with truth and directed to good.’’ “Don’t be afraid.” These lines, reminiscent of Jesus’ teachings, can be interpreted as a motto of standing up for what is right, but they also hide a deeper meaning: human dignity is inherent and communicates universality, reminding us in all circumstances that we are not alone.
In his encyclicals, we can still find guidelines for cases of ethical, philosophical, and moral doubts.
He also called for the mention of Christian roots in the constitution of the European Union.
What makes his life today particularly exemplary are his practicality and ability to act. He measured priorites compared to current dangers. He not only spoke about peace, he was the first pope who made a pilgrimage to the Wailing Wall, taking real steps toward inter-religious reconciliation. His interest and love towards the younger generation has not only been reflected in theoretical preachings, but he also organized real, living communities. He did not only dream about a fair world, he also stood up against the injustice of dictatorships. He has always been present as an example for the people throughout his actions. To this end, as early as 1979, he expressed his concern about the dangers of pollution in connection with the anomalies of explosive technical development.
Today, when our societies are facing false, hysterical philosophical attacks, along with responding to them, we must not ignore the real and inevitable challenges of our age for which we are responsible. Of primary importance is environmental awareness, because one of our elementary duties is to treat the goods entrusted to us responsibly.
Now, as the epidemic threat is mitigated, it is important to draw the right consequences, including important lessons to protect our environment. We can be grateful that in the vicissitudes of the century left behind, our mature secular and ecclesiastical greatnesses, including St. Pope John Paul II, has also left us guidance on these issues. We are confident that we, the people of the 21st century, will also have the strength, wisdom, and opportunity to stand up to the real challenges of our time and to build the present with actions.
Featured photo by Noémi Bruzák/MTI