An Apostle of Hope
12/1/2018by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson
St. John Paul II encouraged us to confront evil in the world and to be witnesses of God’s love
IN OCTOBER, I had the opportunity to be in Kraków, Poland, on the 40th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s election as pope. While there, I visited the ground floor apartment at No. 10 Tyniecka Street, where the young Karol Wojtyła and his father lived during the Nazi invasion and occupation of Poland.
They had come to Kraków so that Wojtyła could attend the Jagiellonian University. But after the Nazis closed the university, Wojtyła began working in a limestone quarry. In 1941, he returned from work one evening to find his father in bed, dead of a heart attack. He would later say, “At 20, I had already lost all the people I loved.”
Standing in the small, austere apartment in front of the wooden desk at which Wojtyła studied, the bed in which his father died and the tiny wooden stove in the kitchen, one could image the questions Wojtyła asked himself, and the prayers he recited, as his world crashed down around him and he struggled to make decisions about the future.
The day after the visit to Tyniecka Street, I was asked whether St. John Paul II is still relevant. With the images of his apartment still in mind, I said, “For St. John Paul II, evil and suffering were not abstractions, they were very real in his life.
“St. John Paul II was an apostle of hope. He told us, ‘Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good’ (cf. Rom 12:21). And he showed us that this could be done.
“He knew that the good is also not an abstraction but is a person — a person whose hands and heart care for others. And he called on each of us to take up this task.”
I had also left the apartment convinced it was the experiences Wojtyła lived while there that gave him such great connectivity with young Catholics when he was pope — especially at World Youth Days.
In 2002, during the World Youth Day in Toronto, he said: “You are young and the Pope is old…. But the Pope still fully identifies with your hopes and aspirations. Although I have lived through much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young. You are our hope.”
Nearly a decade earlier, in Denver, he said to the young pilgrims: “Christ needs you to enlighten the world and to show it the ‘path to life.’ …The struggle will be long, and it needs each one of you. Place your intelligence, your talents, your enthusiasm, your compassion and your fortitude at the service of life!”
In the same homily, he called on young Catholics to “become more conscious of your vocation and mission in the Church and in the world.”And he repeated to them the words of St. Paul, “I have great confidence in you, I have great pride in you; I am filled with encouragement, I am overflowing with joy”(2 Cor 7:4).
Still today, I meet bishops, priests and nuns who tell me that such encounters with St. John Paul II kindled their religious vocations. Others have said how his words strengthened their vocation to marriage and in the world.
As we prepare for what 2019 will bring to our Church and the world, let us as Knights of Columbus reflect on his words at World Youth Day in Toronto:
“The world you are inheriting is a world which desperately needs a new sense of brotherhood and human solidarity. It is a world which needs to be touched and healed by the beauty and richness of God’s love. It needs witnesses to that love.”
I am confident that a young priest from New Haven would have agreed!
By founding the Knights of Columbus, Father McGivney gave us a practical way to bring a greater sense of charity and unity within our Church and our communities.