“He was a sign of Jesus Christ.” That’s Cardinal Walter Kasper’s seven-word summary of Pope John Paul II.
Speaking to CNA in St. Peter's Square only two days before the beatification of the late pontiff, the veteran German cleric explained why he thinks this weekend’s events are of such significance.
“The importance of this beatification is that it’s a beatification by the people – the people of God. Since the funeral we know that people have venerated him (Pope John Paul) and, indeed, the line to his tomb never was interrupted all through those years. He was a sign of Jesus Christ.”
As a leading theologian, Cardinal Kasper got to know the late pope over many years. In 1999 Pope John Paul appointed the then Bishop of Rottenburg-Stuggart to the presidency of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Two years later he elevated him to the rank of cardinal.
“Well I had a very personal relationship with this Pope. On one side he was a very human Pope with a great sensitivity for human things. On the other side was his holiness. When you saw him pray you felt immediately that this is a man of God,” said the cardinal.
“I think he gave to the world a sign of holiness, a sign of God and of the presence of God. But he was also a man who with both feet stood within this world and gave an orientation for people in a very human way. I think this is what was liked by the people.”
Cardinal Kasper, now age 78, also feels that over his years in office Pope John Paul redefined the papacy.
“He felt himself as missioner and he opened up a new view to the papacy not only for the world but also for the Church. A papacy that is open for dialogue, yes, but also a papacy that emphasizes the fundamentals of our faith. So we had centralization on one side – a good thing – and openness to the world on the other side. These are two aspects that are very important.”