Pope John Paul II attends the Stations Of The Cross ceremony from his private chapel on March 25, 2005 in Vatican City. Credit: Arturo Mari – Pool/Getty Images
Pope St. John Paul II embraced suffering with love, even during his illness, a cardinal and the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica said on the 15th anniversary of the saint’s death.
The spread of the coronavirus pandemic, and the growing number of infected and dying people “has fallen on an unprepared society, highlighting the spiritual emptiness of many people,” Cardinal Angelo Comastri told Vatican News April 1.
“Pain undoubtedly frightens everyone,” he stated. “But when it is enlightened by faith it becomes a way to cut back selfishness, banalities and frivolities.”
Pope St. John Paul II died at the Vatican on April 2, 2005, 15 years ago, after months of illness and a years-long battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Comastri recalled one of the pope’s final “appearances” before his death, when, unable to attend, he watched the Good Friday Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum via video from his private chapel.
“The image we saw on television is unforgettable,” Comastri said. “The pope, who had lost all his physical strength, holding the Crucifix in his hands, gazing at it with pure love. One could sense he was saying: ‘Jesus, I too am on the Cross like you. But together with you I await the Resurrection.’”
According to Comastri, “John Paul II was a true master of pain redeemed by love and transformed into an antidote to selfishness: a redemption of human selfishness. This is possible only by opening one’s heart to Jesus: only with Him can one understand and give value to pain.”
“John Paul II,” he said, “knew that life is a race towards God’s Banquet: the Feast of God’s embrace, His infinite glory and happiness.”
“John Paul II lived his suffering with this spirit: even in the hardest moments,” he noted, adding that “he never lost his serenity. Why? Because before him he always had the purpose of life.”
According to Comastri, “today many people no longer believe in that purpose. That’s why they live pain with despair: because they can’t see beyond the pain.”
“We Christians live pain in communion with the Crucified Jesus: clinging to Him, we fill our pain with love and transform it into a force that challenges and overcomes the selfishness that is still present in the world.”
The cardinal recalled an interaction he had with Pope St. John Paul II in March 2003. The pope had asked Comastri to be the preacher for his Lenten spiritual exercises with the Roman Curia that year.
“Afterwards, he received me with great kindness and said: ‘I thought of giving you a cross like mine.’ I reflected on the double meaning of the word, and replied: ‘Holy Father, it would be difficult for you to give me a cross like yours.’”
“John Paul II smiled and said: ‘No, this cross,’ and he pointed to a pectoral cross he wanted to give me. Then he added: ‘You too will have your cross: transform it into love. This is the wisdom that illuminates life.’”
Comastri said “I have never forgotten this wonderful advice given to me by a saint.”