29th Sunday of the Year

Dear Friends in Christ,

1978 was the year of the three popes. Blessed Paul VI died on 6 August 1978 after serving as Bishop of Rome for 15 years, and John Paul I was elected on 26 August. Then after only 33 days in office, John Paul I died of a heart attack in his sleep, necessitating a second conclave in two months. The shock of those circumstances created the possibility for something that was until then unimaginable — the election of a non-Italian pope, and on 16 October 1978 the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, was elected and took the name John Paul II.

The new pope publicly inaugurated his service as Bishop of Rome with a Mass in St. Peter’s Square on 22 October 1978, and from the first moments of that Mass the attention of the world was riveted on the Catholic Church and its energetic new pope. During that inauguration Mass, John Paul exhorted the entire world with words that would serve as the signature antiphon for his nearly twenty-seven year papacy: “Be not afraid. Open wide the doors of your hearts to Christ.”

On 27 April of this year, Pope Francis declared Karol Wojtyla to be among the saints in glory and from that time he is known as Pope Saint John Paul II or John Paul the Great in recognition of the world historical accomplishments of his pontificate, and in the liturgical calendar, the feast of Saint John Paul is celebrated each year on 22 October — the date of his inaugural Mass. All of which means that this Wednesday is the first celebration of Saint John Paul’s feast since his canonization last April, making it an observance of special significance. If possible, attend Mass this coming Wednesday and give thanks for the gift to the Church of this extraordinary Christian witness, and if you have not yet done so, I encourage you to read George Weigel’s masterful biography of Saint John Paul the Great called “Witness to Hope.”

Though it scarcely seems possible, next April will be the 10th anniversary of John Paul’s death on the Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, and in the decade since that day of grace, the Church has been given two more remarkable leaders in Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, both of whom have continued the call begun by Saint John Paul to undertake a New Evangelization of the world, a project that I call Evangelical Catholicism. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, but the Church must teach the timeless truth of the Gospel in the circumstances of every place and time, and that requires us to approach the work of evangelization in our post-Christian world with, in John Paul’s words, new ardor, new methods and new conviction. As part of your observance of the feast of Pope Saint John Paul on Wednesday, please read the principles of Evangelical Catholicism available on our website in the “What’s Happening?” box, and then rededicate yourself to making your entire life a proclamation in word and deed that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Father Newman