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"Dare to be Saints!": Why John Paul II invited his "dear young friends" to be holy

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB

April 25, 2011
Jesus made his own the call to holiness already addressed by God to the people of the old covenant: “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy (Lev 19:2)”. He repeated it continually by word and by the example of his life. Especially in the Sermon on the Mount he left to the Church a code of Christian holiness. The history of Christian holiness is the proof that by living in the spirit of the Beatitudes proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:3-12), Christ’s exhortation in the parable of the vine and the branches is realized: “Abide in me, and I in you.... He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (Jn 15:4, 5). These words are verified in many ways in the lives of individual Christians, thereby showing, down the centuries, the manifold riches and beauty of the holiness of the Church.
Become the Saints of the New Millennium
Pope John Paul II spoke frequently to young people about the call to holiness and the vocation to be saints. Who can forget his message for World Youth Day 2000 in Rome? He wrote to his dear young friends throughout the world unforgettable words that became the rallying cry for the Jubilee’s greatest celebration:
Young people of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer; be coherent with your faith and generous in the service of your brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to His Word, draw strength from the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Penance. The Lord wants you to be intrepid apostles of his Gospel and builders of a new humanity.
Two years later for World Youth Day 2002 in Canada, John Paul II took up once again the theme of holiness and saints in his message to the young people of the world:
Just as salt gives flavor to food and light illumines the darkness, so too holiness gives full meaning to life and makes it reflect God’s glory. How many saints, especially young saints, can we count in the Church’s history! In their love for God their heroic virtues shone before the world, and so they became models of life which the Church has held up for imitation by all.... Through the intercession of this great host of witnesses, may God make you too, dear young people, the saints of the third millennium!
At the concluding Mass of Canada’s World Youth Day at Downsview Park on Sunday, 28 July, 2002, Pope John Paul issued a stirring challenge that still resounds in North America, in particular, today:
And if, in the depths of your hearts, you feel the same call to the priesthood or consecrated life, do not be afraid to follow Christ on the royal road of the Cross! At difficult moments in the Church's life, the pursuit of holiness becomes even more urgent. And holiness is not a question of age; it is a matter of living in the Holy Spirit, just as Kateri Tekakwitha did here in America and so many other young people have done.
In announcing the 2005 World Youth Day in Cologne - an event he would not live to see, Pope John Paul II sent a letter to the young people of the world:
Dear young people, the Church needs genuine witnesses for the new evangelization: men and women whose lives have been transformed by meeting with Jesus, men and women who are capable of communicating this experience to others. The Church needs saints. All are called to holiness, and holy people alone can renew humanity. Many have gone before us along this path of Gospel heroism, and I urge you to turn often to them to pray for their intercession.
Attending his first World Youth Day as Pope, Benedict XVI built on the his predecessor's repeated invitations to young people and at the great vigil of Cologne's World Youth Day on August 20, 2005, Benedict cried out at Marienfeld:
It is the great multitude of the saints — both known and unknown — in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned over the pages; he has done this throughout history and he still does so today. In their lives, as if in a great picture book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed. They are the shining path which God himself has traced throughout history and is still tracing today. ...
The saints ... are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way: only from the saints, only from God does true revolution come, the definitive way to change the world.
Friends of God
During his Pontificate, Pope John Paul II proclaimed 1,338 Blesseds and 482 Saints. Young adults need heroes and heroines today, and the Pope gave us outstanding models of holiness and humanity. In a world that desperately seeks authentic heroes and heroines, John Paul II presented us with the real heroes and heroines of the faith who will never let us down.
Pope John Paul II reminded us that the heroes and heroines the world offers the world today are terribly flawed. They leave us so empty. The real “stars” of Pope John Paul II are the Saints and Blesseds who did not try to be regarded as heroes, or to shock or provoke. He taught us that the saints aren’t just people to turn to when something is lost or a situation seems hopeless; they are examples to follow in prayer and in efforts to reform and renew the church. If we befriend the blesseds and saints and imitate their lives, we too embark on the path of holiness.
We must honestly ask ourselves if the Holy Father’s important teaching on the Blesseds and Saints has become an integral part of our catechesis, evangelization and formation of young people today. Have we have placed our pastoral work with young people under the heading of holiness? Have we invited them to truly desire to be saints?
Santo Subito
When the throngs of people — so many of them the young men and women who were his spiritual sons and daughters — began chanting “Santo Subito” at the end of the Pope’s funeral Mass on April 8, 2005, what were they really chanting? They were crying out that in Karol Wojty?a, they saw someone who lived with God and lived with us. He was a sinner who experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness. He looked at us, loved us, embraced us, healed us and gave us hope. He taught us not to be afraid. He showed us how to live, how to love, how to forgive and how to die. He taught us how to embrace the cross in the most excruciating moments of life, knowing that the cross was not God’s final answer.
If the Church proclaims Pope John Paul II blessed, it is because he lived with God, relying totally on God’s infinite, divine mercy, going forward with God’s strength and power, believing in the impossible, loving one’s enemies and persecutors, forgiving in the midst of evil and violence, hoping beyond all hope, and leaving the world a better place. Pope John Paul II gave flesh and blood to the Beatitudes throughout his entire lifetime. He let us catch a glimpse of the greatness and holiness to which we are all called, and showed us the face of God as we journey on our pilgrim way on earth. A great part of the success of his message is due to the fact that he was surrounded by a tremendous cloud of witnesses who stood by him and strengthened him throughout his life. Is it any wonder, then, that millions of young people throughout the world loved him and took up his invitation to become the “saints of the new millennium?”
The Church is the “home of holiness” and holiness is our most accurate image, our authentic calling card, and our greatest gift to the world. It describes best who and what we are and strive to be. In the life of Karol Wojtyla, holiness was contagious. Pope John Paul II was not only “Holy Father” but a Father who was and is Holy. On 2 April, 2005, he died a public, global death that stopped the world for several days. On 8 April, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told the world that the Holy Father was watching and blessing us ‘from the window of the Father’s House’”.
As we prepare for Sunday May 1, 2011, the Beatification of this great servant and priest, and a real hero for young people today, let us beg his intercession and blessing. May he intercede for us and give us the desire to become holy and to be saints.
Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB
CEO, Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation
CNS photo/Arturo Mari: Pope John Paul II waves to young pilgrims during World Youth Day in Toronto July 25, 2002.
CNS photo/Joe Rimkus Jr.: Pope John Paul II waves as he arrives at Miami International Airport Sept. 10 at the start of his 1987 trip to the United States.
CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo, Pool: Pope Benedict XVI waves to pilgrims in 2005 as he arrives on the Rhine River for World Youth Day near Cologne, Germany.