Our family traveled to Europe for the first time in the Fall of 2000. We motored through four or five countries—savoring the sights and scents of cities older than anything we’d ever seen in the United States, and marveling at majestic mountain ranges.
Our two-week road trip reached its apex in Rome—and more specifically, with the General Audience of Pope John Paul II on Wednesday, October 18, 2000. We were near and clicked this photo as the popemobile passed through St. Peter’s Square, and we saw the exuberant devotion of an overflow crowd. He loved them, too, and loved all of us with the love of Christ.
A mystic and an intellectual, John Paul certainly enjoyed a rich life of the mind; yet he seemed at the same time to truly welcome the constant stream of pilgrims who sought to touch his hand, kiss his ring, see his smile.
On this particular day, the Pope’s address focused on the Eucharist, Banquet of Communion with God. The covenant on Sinai which united Israel to the Lord, he explained, foretold the new covenant which would give rise – to use an expression of the Greek Fathers – to a kinship as it were between Christ and the faithful (cf. Cyril of Alexandria, In Johannis Evangelium, XI; John Chrysostom, In Matthaeum hom., LXXXII, 5).The Pope cited Johannine and Pauline theologies that emphasize the vital communion which is established in faith between Christ, the Bread of life, and whoever eats it.
Lastly, he called the pilgrims gathered in the sun-warmed square to join with him in expressing our desire for the divine life offered in Christ in the warm tones of a great theologian of the Armenian Church, Gregory of Narek (10th century): “It is not for his gifts, but for the Giver that I always long. It is not glory to which I aspire, but the Glorified One whom I desire to embrace…. It is not rest that I seek, but the face of the One who gives rest that I implore. It is not for the wedding feast, but for desire of the Bridegroom that I languish” (XII Prayer).
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On May 1, the Church officially recognized what we already believed: That Pope John Paul II has achieved that union with Christ which was his life goal, and that he now shares in the blessed joy of heaven.
Blessed John Paul, pray for us.