Pope John Paul II’s Prayers
Become co-responsible for building peace
“As we enter into Lent,” affirmed the Holy Father, “we cannot not take into account the current international context, in which we see menacing tensions of war. There must be, on everyone’s part, an aware acceptance of responsibilities and a common effort to avoid another dramatic conflict for mankind. For this reason I wished for Ash Wednesday to be a day of prayer and fasting to implore peace in the world. We must ask God above all for the conversion of hearts, where every form of evil and every motivation towards sin is rooted; we must pray and fast for peaceful coexistence between peoples and nations.”
VATICAN CITY, MAR 5, 2003
Pope John Paul II on Ash Wednesday, 2002
LENT BEGINS. A TIME FOR CONVERSION AND PENITENCE
VATICAN CITY, FEB 13, 2002 (VIS) – In the general audience of today, Ash Wednesday, the Pope affirmed: “Together with the entire Church, we begin a 40-day journey in preparation for Easter, with the austere symbol of the imposition of the ashes and accompanied by Christ’s exhortation: ‘repent, and believe in the Gospel’.”
He went on: “All human beings are thus confronted with their condition as sinners and with their need for penitence and conversion. The Christian faith reminds us that this pressing call to reject evil and do good is a gift of God, from Whom comes all that is good in the life of man. Everything has its origin in the gratuitous initiative of God, Who created us for joy and orients all things towards true goodness.”
The Holy Father indicated that the message for Lent this year focuses on “the gratuitousness of God’s initiative in our lives. … The path of conversion down which we faithfully start today, is fully part of this original context of love and gratuitousness. Are not the giving of alms and
the charitable gestures which we are especially called to make in this time of penitence, a response to the gratuitousness of divine grace?”
“Modern society has a profound need to rediscover the value of gratuitousness, especially because a logic exclusively motivated by the search for profit and gain at any cost often seems to triumph in our world. In the face of the widespread feeling that all choices and actions are dominated by the logic of market forces and the law of greatest-possible income, the Christian faith re-proposes the ideal of gratuitousness, based on people’s conscious freedom and animated by authentic love.”
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LENT: RELIVING JESUS’ FAST AND PRAYERS IN THE DESERT
VATICAN CITY, FEB 28, 2001 (VIS) – In today’s general audience, held in the Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father spoke about the liturgical season of Lent, which begins today, Ash Wednesday. “The Lenten period,” the Pope said, “invites us above all to relive with Jesus the forty days which He spent in the desert, fasting and praying, before beginning his public mission, which will culminate on Calvary with the sacrifice of the Cross, the definitive victory over sin and death.”
After recalling that man is destined for eternal life, John Paul II affirmed that the Ash Wednesday liturgy “helps us to place this fundamental truth of faith in focus and urges us to undertake a decisive program of personal renewal. We must change our way of thinking and acting, fixing our gaze upon the face of Christ and making His Gospel our daily rule of life. ‘Be converted and believe in the Gospel’: may this be our Lenten program, as we enter into a climate of prayerful listening to the Spirit.”
The Pope recalled that the means for living Lent well are “prayer, fasting, and penance, as well as almsgiving, that is, the sharing of what we own with the needy. It involves a personal and communal ascetic journey, which is sometimes particularly difficult due to the secularized environment which surrounds us. Precisely for this reason, however, the effort must become stronger and more resolute.”
“The fruit of such a courageous ascetic program cannot but be a greater opening to the needs of one’s neighbor. The person who loves the Lord cannot close his eyes before persons and peoples tried by suffering and misery.
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Message for Lent 2002
VATICAN CITY, FEB 5, 2002 (VIS) – Made public today was John Paul II’s message for Lent 2002, the theme of which is: “You received without paying, give without pay.” The text bears the date of October 4, 2001, and has been published in Italian, English, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Polish. Some extracts from the message are given below:
“‘You received without paying, give without pay.’ May these words of the Gospel echo in the heart of all Christian communities on their penitential pilgrimage to Easter. May Lent, recalling the mystery of the Lord’s Death and Resurrection, lead all Christians to marvel in their heart of hearts at the greatness of such a gift.
“Yes! We have received without pay. Is not our entire life marked by God’s kindness? The beginning of life and its marvelous development: this is a gift. And because it is gift, life can never be regarded as a possession or as private property, even if the capabilities we now have to improve the quality of life can lead us to think that man is the ‘master’ of life.”
“It is also worth repeating here that not everything that is technically possible is morally acceptable. Scientific work aimed at securing a quality of life more in keeping with human dignity is admirable, but it must never be forgotten that human life is a gift, and that it remains precious even when marked by suffering and limitations. A gift to be accepted and to be loved at all times: received without pay and to be placed without pay at the service of others.”
“Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus renews our life and makes us sharers in the divine life which draws us into the intimate life of God and enables us to experience His love for us. … This life is passed on to us in Baptism, and we must nourish it constantly by responding to it faithfully, both individually and communally, through prayer, the celebration of the Sacraments and evangelical witness.
“Since we have received this life freely, we must in turn offer it freely to our brothers and sisters. … And the first gift to be given is the gift of a holy life, bearing witness to the freely given love of God. May the Lenten journey be for all believers an unceasing summons to enter more deeply into this special vocation of ours.”
“The world prizes human relationships based on self-interest and personal gain, and this fosters an egocentric vision of life, in which too often there is no room for the poor and weak. Every person, even the least gifted, must be welcomed and loved for themselves, regardless of their qualities and defects. Indeed, the greater their hardship, the more they must be the object of our practical love. This is the love to which the Church, through her countless institutions, bears witness in accepting responsibility for the sick, the marginalized, the poor and the exploited. In this way, Christians become apostles of hope and builders of the civilization of love.”
“Dear Brothers and Sisters! Let this be how we prepare to live this Lent: in practical generosity towards the poorest of our brothers and sisters! By opening our hearts to them, we realize ever more deeply that what we give to others is our response to the many gifts which the Lord continues to give to us. We have received without paying, let us give without pay!
“What better time is there than Lent for offering this testimony of gratuitousness which the world so badly needs? In the very love which God has for us, there lies the call to give ourselves freely to others in turn. I thank all those throughout the world – lay people, religious and priests
– who offer this witness of charity. May it be true of all Christians, whatever the circumstances in which they live.”
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THE POPE LIVES HIS OLD AGE WITH GREAT NATURALNESS
VATICAN CITY, OCT 26, 1999 (VIS) – This morning in the Holy See Press Office, Cardinal James Francis Stafford and Bishop Stanislaw Rylko, respectively president and secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, presented “The Letter of His Holiness John Paul II to the Elderly.” Cardinal Stafford indicated that with this letter the Pope “proffers his own loving and authoritative ‘first hand’ contribution in order to give, in this Year of the Elderly and with a view of the Jubilee, the true meaning of old age.”
For his part, Bishop Rylko underlined that the Holy Father, “following his Letters to the young in 1985, to families in 1994, to children in 1994, to women in 1995 and to artists this year – and not counting those Letters that, since the beginning of his pontificate, he writes every year on Holy Thursday to priests – this time wishes to write to the elderly. This is a further sign of how much John Paul II, considered by everyone as being a great ‘communicator’, values this form of personal and direct dialogue with the various categories of faithful.”
“The Pope,” he went on, “lives his old age with great naturalness. He has no fear in placing before the eyes of the world the limits and frailties that the years have placed upon him. He does nothing to disguise them. In speaking to young people, he has no difficulty in saying of himself: ‘I am an old priest’.” John Paul II “continues to fulfill his mission as the Successor of Peter, looking far ahead with the enthusiasm of the only youth that does not deteriorate, that of the spirit, which this Pope maintains intact.”
The secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity concluded by affirming that the Letter “has a very personal, almost confidential, tone. It is certainly not an analysis of old age. Rather, it is a very intimate dialogue between people of the same generation.”
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LETTER OF POPE JOHN PAUL II TO THE ELDERLY
VATICAN CITY, OCT 26, 1999 (VIS) – Made public today was Pope John Paul’s Letter to the Elderly, on the occasion of the International Year of the Elderly, promoted by the United Nations to, as the Pope notes, “direct the attention of society as a whole to the situation of those who, because of the burden of their years, often have to face a variety of difficult problems.”
“As an older person myself,” writes the Holy Father at the start of the Letter, dated October 1 and published in seven languages, “I have felt the desire to engage in a conversation with you. I do so first by thanking God for the gifts and the opportunities which he has abundantly bestowed upon me up to now. … In this Letter I wish simply to express my spiritual closeness to you as someone who, with the passing of the years, has come to a deeper personal understanding of this phase of life and consequently feels a need for closer contact with other people of his own age, so that we can reflect together on the things we have in common.”
“The passage of time,” says the Pope,” helps us to see our experiences in a clearer light and softens their painful side.” Moreover, he says, the daily difficulties can be eased with God’s help. In addition, “we are consoled by the thought that, by virtue of our spiritual souls, we will survive beyond death.”
In the second part of the Letter, entitled “A complex century towards a future of hope,” Pope John Paul points out that “our life, brothers and sisters, has been situated by Providence in this twentieth century, which arrived with a complex inheritance from the past and has witnessed many extraordinary events.” He looks at the many “lights and shadows” of this century about to end.
Among the shadows are the “unprecedented sufferings (that) have afflicted the lives of millions and millions of people”: two world wars, the many conflicts which have erupted on various continents, inter-ethnic hatred, the extreme poverty in many parts of the world, the “shameful phenomenon of racial discrimination,” the “systematic violation of human rights,” “the nightmare of the cold war …. accompanied by an insane arms race and the constant threat of atomic war.”
Among the positive signs, writes the Pope, are “a growing consciousness …. of universal human rights” and of the right of peoples to self-government; a greater awareness of the value of democracy and free markets; the striving of the world’s religions “to carry on a dialogue which would make them a fundamental factor of peace and unity in the world”; increasing recognition of the dignity of women”; a new ecological awareness; advances in medicine and “the contribution of science to human well-being.”
“The autumn of life” is the title of part three of the Holy Father’s Letter to the Elderly. Reminding us that Cicero called old age “the autumn of life, … following the analogy suggested by the seasons and the successive phases of nature,” the Pope adds: “At the same time, however, man is set apart from the other realities around him, precisely because he is a person. Made in the image and likeness of God, he is conscious and responsible.” He remarks that old age, like youth, has its benefits: “As St. Jerome observes, with the quieting of passions, ‘it increases wisdom, and brings more mature counsels’.”
The Holy Father dedicates part four to the elderly in Sacred Scripture, pointing out that “Scriptures maintain a very positive vision of the value of life,” and “each stage of life has its own beauty and its own tasks.” He highlights the stories of Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Tobit, Eleazar and, in the New Testament, Elizabeth and Zechariah, Simeon, Anna, Nicodemus and St. Peter, “called to bear witness to his faith by martyrdom.”
“Guardians of shared memory” is the title of the next part of the Pope’s Letter. Pointing out that “in the past, great respect was shown to the elderly,” the Pope remarks that this is still true in many cultures today, “while among others, this is much less the case, due to a mentality which gives priority to immediate human usefulness and productivity.”
He writes: “It has come to the point where euthanasia is increasingly put forward as a solution for difficult situations. Unfortunately, in recent years the idea of euthanasia has lost for many people the sense of horror which it naturally awakens in those who have a sense of respect for life.”
The Pope adds: “Here it should be kept in mind that the moral law allows the rejection of ‘aggressive medical treatment’ and makes obligatory only those forms of treatment which fall within the normal requirements of medical care, which in the case of terminal illness seeks primarily to alleviate pain. But euthanasia, understood as directly causing death, is another thing entirely. Regardless of intentions and circumstances, euthanasia is always an intrinsically evil act, a violation of God’s law and an offense against the dignity of the human person.”
The elderly, the Pope concludes this section, “are the guardians of our collective memory. … To exclude the elderly is in a sense to deny the past, in which the present is firmly rooted. … Precisely because of their mature experience, the elderly are able to offer young people precious advice and guidance.” Human frailty “becomes a summons to the mutual dependence and indispensable solidarity which link the generations.”
The Holy Father dedicates part six of this Letter to the commandment “Honor thy father and mother.” He writes that “where this commandment is accepted and faithfully observed, there is little danger that older people will be regarded as a useless and troublesome burden.He observes that while honoring parents and older people is a time-honored tradition in many nations and societies, “elsewhere, and especially in the more economically advanced nations, there needs to be a reversal of the current trend (in order) to ensure that elderly people can grow old with dignity, without having to fear that they will end up no longer counting for anything.”
“We are all familiar,” affirms the Holy Father, “with examples of elderly people who remain amazingly youthful and vigorous in spirit. … May society use (them) to their full potential.” And here he urges young people to be close to the elderly as they “can give you much more than you can imagine.”
As the number of older people increase, states John Paul, it will be more important than ever “not to relegate them to the fringes,” but to keep them in the family. He acknowledged, however, the need on occasion for the elderly to be admitted to homes with specialized care.
The Pope went on to express special affection to widows and widowers, “who find yourselves alone in the final part of your lives,” and to elderly priests and bishops and men and women religious. In the next section, “You show me the path of life, in Your presence there is fullness of life,” the Pope reminds us that life on earth is a journey, a pilgrimage towards our heavenly home, and that death is the start of a new life. “And yet, we elderly people find it hard to resign ourselves to the prospect of making this passage. … Man has been made for life, whereas death … was not a part of God’s original plan but came about as a consequence of sin.”
“However rationally comprehensible death may be from a biological standpoint, it is not possible to experience it as something ‘natural’.” We ask ourselves, he says here, “What is on the other side of the shadowy wall of death?” The answer comes from faith “which illuminates the mystery of death and brings serenity to old age, now no longer lived passively as the expectation of a calamity, but rather as a promise-filled approach to the goal of full maturity.”
Pope John Paul’s Letter to the Elderly closes with a section entitled “An encouragement to live life to the full.” He writes: “I feel a spontaneous desire to share fully with you my own feelings at this point of my life, after more than twenty years of ministry on the throne of Peter. … Despite the limitations brought on by age I continue to enjoy life. For this I thank the Lord. It is wonderful to be able to give oneself to the very end for the sake of the Kingdom of God!
“At the same time,” he concludes, “I find great peace in thinking about the time when the Lord will call me: from life to life! … ‘Bid me to come to you’: this is the deepest yearning of the human heart, even in those who are not conscious of it.”
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PROMOTE HUMAN RIGHTS, ABOVE ALL THE RIGHT TO LIFE
VATICAN CITY, MAY 5, 1999 (VIS) – At the conclusion of today’s weekly general audience, the Pope stated that “in these days, at the United Nations headquarters in New York, an important meeting is taking place concerning the application of what was decided in the Cairo Conference (on Population and Development) of 1994.”
“On that occasion,” he continued, “the Holy See had reiterated insistently that human life be put at the center of any development program. This means that any solution to population problems must respect the dignity of each human being and, at the same time, promote their fundamental rights, above all the right to life. To this must be added the right to health and education involving the family in its irreplaceable role of promoter of human, spiritual and moral values.”
The Holy Father concluded: “Five years after the International Conference on Population and Development, governments must renew the commitment they made there in order to assure true and lasting human development.”
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DEFEND LIFE AT ALL TIMES, FROM CONCEPTION TO NATURAL DEATH
VATICAN CITY, OCT 2, 1998 (VIS) – The Pope dedicated his entire discourse this morning to the defense of life, and to the building of “a genuine culture of life,” when he spoke to the bishops of the Church in California, Nevada and Hawaii, U.S.A.
Addressing them as they complete their “ad limina” visit, he said: “We are coming to the end of a century … of almost unlimited progress, but which is now ending in widespread fear and moral confusion. … We must rediscover the foundations of hope. Above all, society must learn to embrace once more the great gift of life.” He told them that as bishops they must “stand firmly on the side of life, encouraging those who defend it and building with them a genuine culture of life.”
The Holy Father recalled that 1998 marks two anniversaries of a different nature: the 30th commemoration of Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical “Humanae Vitae” in defense of life, and the 25th anniversary of the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to legalize abortion.
“Thirty years after ‘Humanae Vitae’,” he affirmed, “we see that mistaken ideas about the individual’s moral autonomy continue to inflict wounds on the consciences of many people and on the life of society. Paul VI pointed out some of the consequences of separating the unitive aspect of conjugal love from its procreative dimension: a gradual weakening of moral discipline; a trivialization of human sexuality; the demeaning of women; marital infidelity, often leading to broken families; state-sponsored programs of population control based on imposed contraception and sterilization. The introduction of legalized abortion and euthanasia, … and certain forms of genetic manipulation and embryo experimentation are also closely related in law and public policy.”
He said that as bishops they must “find the right language and imagery to present” the Church’s teaching on life, married love and the dignity of women “in a comprehensible and compelling way.” John Paul II highlighted the “urgency of the pro-life task” since abortion was legalized in America in 1973. “Despite the generous efforts by so many … the idea that elective abortion is a ‘right’ continues to be asserted.” And, he said, there is “an unimaginable insensitivity to the reality of what actually happens during an abortion. … A society with a diminished sense of the value of human life has already opened the door to a culture of death.”
The Pope pointed out the need to make alternatives to abortion available: supporting women in crisis pregnancies; providing counselling services; opening hearts and homes to “‘unwanted’ and abandoned children, young people in difficulty, to the handicapped, and to those who have no one to care for them.” He then addressed “the morally objectionable nature of campaigns for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. Euthanasia and suicide are grave violations of God’s law.” He cited the need “to clarify the substantial moral difference between discontinuing medical procedures that may be burdensome, dangerous or disproportionate to the expected outcome – and taking away the ordinary means of preserving life, such as feeding, hydration and normal medical care. … The omission of nutrition and hydration intended to cause a patient’s death must be rejected and … the presumption should be in favor of providing medically assisted nutrition and hydration to all patients who need them.”
“Sickness,” he stated, “is a call to Christians to demonstrate true compassion. … Likewise, the handicapped and those who are ill must never feel that they are a burden: they are persons being visited by the Lord. The terminally ill in particular deserve the solidarity, communion and affection of those around them.”
In concluding remarks, Pope John Paul told the bishops that “an essential feature of support for the inalienable right to life, from conception to natural death, is the effort to provide legal protection for the unborn, the handicapped, the elderly, and those suffering from terminal illness. … Catholics, and especially Catholic legislators, must continue to make their voices heard. … America must become, again, a hospitable society, in which every unborn child and every handicapped or terminally ill person is cherished and enjoys the protection of the law.”
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Pope John Paul II (Latin: Ioannes Paulus II; Italian: Giovanni Paolo II; Polish: Jan Paweł II; born Karol Józef Wojtyła; 18 May 1920 – 2 April 2005) was the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State from 1978 to 2005.