The following commentary is from the EWTN series, The Papacy: A Living History, The Papal Artifacts Collection of Father Richard Kunst. It is from the first episode of Season 2: The Canonization of Pope John Paul the Great. A DVD of Season 2 will be available from EWTN in 2015.
The commentary provided here is a compilation of the conversation between Father Richard Kunst, the Papal Artifacts’ Expert, and his co-host, Father Ryan Moravitz.
One of the many things we see in many of our popes, and in a particular way in Saint John Paul II, is their human frailty. These men struggle with the same kinds of frailties we all struggle with, and one of the most noted frailties that John Paul II experienced was Parkinson’s disease, at least some form of it. And we remember these images of him shaking quite a bit, especially as he got older. Because of that, what he would do as he got older and more advanced in age and less capable of actually signing his name is that he reached the point where he just started to initial his name, “JP II.”
This item is an example of that. The photograph of him is when he was quite a bit younger, but the signature, “JP II,” indicates that it certainly was signed much later in his pontificate, not long before his death. We can see that there’s a raised stamp to indicate it was signed by him.
I think of him being canonized, and a big part of his holiness was his modeling for us the journey towards sainthood: it was his ability to suffer. He suffered greatly in his final years. We saw that very tangibly in the suffering he was going through physically, and certainly he was uniting it to the Lord.
I remember the last day he came to the window. I (Father Moravitz) was there in the square as a seminarian in Rome, and he couldn’t speak, and he was shaking you could see, and we all stood in the square cheering him on. I remember thinking to myself, “Holy Father, you don’t need to say anything. You say everything with your life by showing us the beauty and the dignity of human life in the midst of great suffering up to those final moments of journey to the Lord, to the Father’s house.
I think of this small signature that happened later in his life, and I am reminded what a great model and great example he gave to us.
I (Father Kunst) do like the idea of what you’re saying– that he showed us the value of the elderly. I had a non-Catholic friend of mine say to me while John Paul was still alive, “Well, how can he lead when he’s so incapacitated?” And I said to him exactly what you’re saying, “In his leadership, what he is doing is showing us the value of the elderly and the dignity of human life.”
That is so important these days—to recognize the dignity and the worth of human life and that everyone still contributes to the life of the Church, to the lives of others, even in the midst of great suffering and illness. So those that are suffering might turn to John Paul II for his prayer and his example to know how to journey with the Lord in the midst of those final days of life. And through that suffering, to offer it up. We certainly saw that in an incredibly graceful way in Saint John Paul the Great: uniting that suffering to the heart of Christ.