From the Preface to the Heirs of the Fisherman
A half a century after the Iron Curtain was gone and the Communist ideology consigned to the dustbin of history, the American weekly Time (magazine designated the pontiff as its “Man of the Year” for 1994, explaining its choice in these terms.: “Pope John Paul II has, among many other things, the world’s bulliest pulpit. Few of t his predecessors over the past 2,000 years have spoken from it as often and as forcefully as he. When he talks, it is not only to his flock of nearly a billion; he expects the world to listen. And the flock and the world listen, not, always liking what they hear…People who see him—and countless millions have–do not forget him. His appearances generate an electricity unmatched by anyone else on earth.” Not bad for the heir of a Galilean fisherman….
Paul Gray, “Empire of the Spirit,” Time 144/20 (December 26, 1994): 20
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.
A Memory of a Seminarian in Rome
“I remember the last day he came to the window. I 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.”
Pope John Paul 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.
Today, we celebrate the memory of Beloved Saint John Paul’s selection as Time Magazine’s, Man of the Year 1994.
Saint John Paul, on the feast of Saint Stephen, pray for us!