Pope Francis hails St. John Paul II’s ‘great witness’ ahead of centenary

Pope Francis said that he has looked up to St. John Paul II throughout his priesthood in a book foreword he wrote ahead of the 100-year anniversary of the Polish pope’s birth. 

“St. John Paul II was a great witness of faith … Many times, in the course of my life as a priest and bishop I have looked to him, asking in my prayers for the gift of being faithful to the Gospel as he witnessed to us,” Pope Francis wrote in the forward of a recently published Italian book.

The book, “St. John Paul II: 100 Years. Words and images”, is being issued by the Vatican Publishing House to mark the centenary of Karol Wojtyła’s birth on May 18, 1920.

In his five-page foreword, Pope Francis wrote that St. John Paul II was “a great man of prayer who lived completely immersed in his time and constantly in contact with God, a sure guide for the Church in times of great change.”

“He was a great witness of mercy and throughout his pontificate, he called us to this characteristic of God,” Francis said.

When Wojtyła became Pope John Paul II in 1978, a 41-year-old Fr. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was serving as the provincial superior of the Jesuits in Argentina. 

Pope John Paul II appointed Bergoglio an auxiliary bishop in 1992, elevating him to become Archbishop of Buenos Aires in 1998, and creating him a cardinal in 2001. Pope Francis canonized St. John Paul II in 2014.

“Fifteen years now separate us from his death,” Pope Francis said.

The pope pointed out that there are children and young people today who have not known or only have a vague memory of St. John Paul II.

“For this reason, on the centenary of his birth, it was right to remember this great holy witness of the faith that God has given to his Church and to humanity,” he said.

“I hope that this text will reach the hands of many, above all young people. Let us remember his faith. He is an example for us to live our witness today,” the pope said.

Pope Francis wrote that many may not realize how much St. John Paul II suffered in his life. He experienced the death of his mother, brother, and father by the age of 21, and then lived through World War II.

“The suffering that he experienced relying totally on the Lord forged him, and made even stronger the Christian faith in which he had been educated,” Francis said.

“St. John Paul suffered as pope. He suffered a terrible attack in 1981, offered his life, shed his blood for the Church. He testified that even in the difficult trial of disease, shared daily with God made man and crucified for our salvation, we can remain happy. We can remain ourselves,” he continued. 

Pope Francis also commented on John Paul II’s “great passion for the human person” and his openness to dialogue. 

Earlier this year, Pope Francis co-authored a book of reflections on the life of St. John Paul II entitled “St. John Paul the Great.” In this book, Pope Francis said he learned the importance of joy and mercy from the Polish pope.

“It is enough to look at his life” to see that John Paul II had “the smell of the sheep,” Francis said. “He was a pastor who loved people and the people returned it with an immense love.”