On Oct. 16, 2003 we celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Holy Father’s pontificate. Toronto’s Catholic community celebrated it by a gala concert on October 12, 2003 at the Air Canada Centre.
I believe many of you who went to the Church last week received a purple book entitled: “Pope John Paul II – Celebrating 25 years as Shepherd of the Catholic Church – Oct. 16, 1978-Oct. 16, 2003.” In brief it narrates about Karol Jozef Wojtyla, who took the name of John Paul II when he became the 263rd successor of St. Peter. Then from the balcony of St. Peter’s the world heard “Habemus Papam!” or “We have a Pope!” and he appeared on the balcony. He is the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. And, we witness the journey of the man who walks in the shoes of fisherman, who continues Jesus’ mandate to St. Peter “The Rock” to teach, to sanctify and to govern His Church.
The concert was very touching. It weaved seamlessly between narration that accompanied the documentary about him and music. As the book mentioned, “The artists at the John Paul II Silver Jubilee Gala Concert will evoke the complexity of the Pope’s life and ministry: solitary, yet outgoing; contemplative, yet dynamic; modest, yet charismatic; scholarly, yet athletic; often controversial, yet deeply respected; firm and determined, yet a committed pacifist.”
Father Thomas Rosica, the 2002 World Youth Day coordinator, in his greeting said that the Pope has such a strong will and a loving heart that make people love him so much.. as shown by thousands of people who flocked Air Canada Centre on Oct. 12. They sobbed and cheered during the 3-hour documentary and music performance.
I was deeply touched by two of the concert’s artists. Tony Melendez and Adrian Anantawan. Tony was called “the thalidomide baby” when he was born. Yes, he was born without arms. But, yet he plays guitar and sings very well. His parents love him so much that they gave him the chance to live as a normal person despite his physical handicap. Then, after he sang “You are His Miracle”, the song that he sang for Pope John Paul II in 1987 in Los Angeles, he said the following to wrap up his first performance, “You see what I can do with my feet. Imagine what you can do with your heart.” Adrian was another performer with physical handicap. He was born without a right hand. And yet he plays violin very well. He won the 2002 VSA Rosemary Kennedy International Young Soloist Award. Jesus teaches us to value every stages of life… and as Father Rosica put it, “The Pope said that family is the way of the Church.”
The people gave a roaring applause and sang along when Helmut Lotti, a famous Belgian composer and singer, sang “Shalom Aleichem”, a traditional Hebrew song. Our Pope has given a very good example of inter-faith relationship. He took the initiative to extend his hands and begin ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue with Moslem, Jewish, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Buddhist.
For me personally, it is so hard to see the journey of this man that walks in the shoes of fisherman from a strong and energized pontif to a frail pope. Maybe, as one of the priest in Toronto has said, he is enlivened Jesus’s sufferings. A cruel facts that he tries to calm with his exuberant strong will. He takes his duty seriously, and once he said that he felt the duty to imitate the apostle Peter.
In closing, I would like to quote three of the ‘famous’ people quotes on him. Rabbi Haim Kemelman said, “I saw you celebrate Divinity but higher than that, I saw you celebrate humanity. You brought hope and faith and the message of freedom, the unbounded human spirit – unafarid and uninhibited – to millions of people fettered to an ideology in which the spirit of man is still in chains, with his mind controlled by a political slavery which holds him in bondage.”
Rev. Billy Graham said, “He’ll go down in history as the greatest of our modern popes. He’s been the strong conscience of the whole Christian world.”
And, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s leader then, said this about him, “An exceptional man. The Pope did everything possible to help humanity out of this era of hate. Everything that took place in Eastern Europe in recent years would have been impossible without the Pope’s efforts and the enormous role, including the political role, he played in the world arena.”
Interesting sites and articles about Pope John Paul II:
We will be with you until the end of your duty as Fisherman.
God bless you. We love you JPII…