Today, we celebrate the feast of Pope Saint John Paul II, who was born in 1920 in Wadowice, Poland. After his ordination to the priesthood and theological studies in Rome, he returned to his homeland and resumed various pastoral and academic tasks. He was ordained an auxiliary bishop and, in 1964, became Archbishop of Kraków and took part in the Second Vatican Council. On October 16, 1978, he was elected pope and took the name John Paul II, honoring his two predecessors, Pope Saint John XXIII, and Blessed Pope Paul VI. His exceptional apostolic zeal, particularly for families, young people, and the sick, led him to numerous pastoral visits throughout the world. Among the many fruits which he has left as a heritage to the Church are above all his rich theological teaching and the promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as the Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church and for the Eastern Churches. In Rome on April 2, 2005, the eve of the Second Sunday of Easter (or of Divine Mercy), he departed peacefully in the Lord. He was canonized by Pope Francis on that same feast in 2014. Normally a Saint’s feast day falls on the day of his or her death, but because that date would often fall during holy week, and because the Church desired that his feast be celebrated with due solemnity each year, his feast is today, on the anniversary of the date of the Mass for his inauguration to the pontificate.
In many ways, Saint John Paul II embodied the zeal of Jesus in today’s Gospel. “I have come to set the earth on fire,” Jesus says. Saint John Paul indeed set the earth on fire in many ways, contributing to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, and reinvigorating the Church through authentic teaching and his own personal charisma. We may remember that he often echoed the Scriptural teaching of “Do not be afraid,” and modeled the freedom of living ones faith and witnessing without apology. May we all be reinvigorated as we celebrate his feast, and devote ourselves totally to Jesus, through Mary, as he did.