Sharing the Dream


        The canonization of our newest saints in the Church, John XXIII and John Paul II, gives me great joy. Both popes inspire me. Moreover, it fills me with encouragement knowing that I have been in contact with one who is now a saint!
I was in Paris for the World Youth Day 1997. It was my first to see Pope John Paul II at close range from his papal mobile as he was leaving the Longchamp Racecourse where the concluding mass was held. But a more exhilarating experience was granted to me during the World Youth Day 2000 in Rome. At the final mass at Tor Vergata, I was able to concelebrate with him, along with bishops and hundreds of priest-participants coming from all over the world. Then the extraordinary happened. He passed by right in front of me as he was coming down from the stage toward his papal mobile. I touched his hand while he was waving to us! It was a moment of delight; a dream-come-true!
Saint John XXIII, however, is unfamiliar to me because he died more than fifty years ago. But reading through his life, I realized he continues to have a strong appeal because of his big heart, his great wisdom and his big dream for the Church and humanity. He himself was surprised when the conclave elected him Pope. He had common gifts like everyone else. Though he did well in school, he was no star. He came from a poor family of farmers. He did not have a stunning physique nor was he a great musician or theologian in his day. But throughout all his life, “he let himself be guided by the Lord.”
Going by the books, he should have waited longer to be canonized. But Pope Francis granted him an exception. His influence on the Church today is sufficient miracle! Thanks to him we have thousands of lay ministers the world over; the faithful praying the Mass rather than hearing it; work for social justice making progress; human dignity at the center of the church’s witness; a continuing renewal happening in the Church.
John XXIII, despite his short-lived papacy, will be remembered as one of the greatest popes in history. Those who knew him were touched by his exuberance and warmth. He constantly radiated a true Christian joy to all around him because he was personally convinced that he had to tell the world about the “good news” of Jesus. He wanted to dialogue with the world rather than condemn it. He was filled with a strong sense of optimism believing that there is so much good happening in the world. He lived in a time when amazing things and technology were bringing progress. But prudent decision by good leaders was also needed to put those good things at the service of humanity.
He carried the office of Pope with great distinction. But he never forgot that he was human first and foremost. He was aware that times have changed and it was time for the Pope to stop acting like royalty. His poor background helped him to become down-to-earth. He saw himself as a fellow human being in a journey of faith like the rest. He refused to take advantage of his position either for himself or for his family. In his last will and testament, Pope John XXIII wrote: “Born poor, but of humble and respected folk, I am particularly happy to die poor. His death in 1963 had a strong impact on people everywhere, believers and non-believers alike. Throughout the world, everyone mourned. Even the prisoners at Rome’s Regina Coeli prison, where he had visited on his first Christmas in the Vatican, sent this message: “With an immense love, we are close to you.”
Endowed with a big heart, he also had a great vision and unlimited hope. He dreamt of a church that could spread the good news of Jesus’ love in a way that made sense to people of the new century. When America and Russia in October 1962 were on the brink of a nuclear war, he made a broadcast message on Vatican Radio calling for President John F. Kennedy and Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev to exercise restraint. The Pope pleaded for peace!
When through a “flash of heavenly light” he called for the Second Vatican Council, he felt God was nudging him to lead the Church to become a “universal sacrament of salvation.” Among other things, this Ecumenical Council would renew the liturgy; would place greater emphasis on Scripture; encourage collegiality in the Church and accept what is essentially good in the world.
He is given to us today as an example not to bewail our times. Instead he inspires us to be courageous and hopeful that faith and love can change hearts. Miracles still happen. We can still share the dream of a better world.

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