Recalling with emotion the passing of Pope John Paul II three years ago today, Pope Benedict said April 2 will remain imprinted on the mind of the Church as the day when the Servant of God departed from this world.
Thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for a memorial Mass in honor of the beloved pope, whose abiding memory continues to draw thousands of visitors every day to his tomb inside St. Peter's Basilica.
Pope Benedict said that the life and pontificate, was as a whole and in many specific moments, "a sign and witness of the Resurrection of Christ."
John Paul II died on the eve of the second Sunday of Easter, the fulfillment of the "day that the Lord has made."
The Holy Father said, "Like three years ago, today we are not far from Easter. The heart of the Church is still deeply immersed in the mystery of the Resurrection of the Lord. Indeed, we can read the entire life of my beloved predecessor, in particular his Petrine ministry, as a sign of the Risen Christ.”
Recalling how today is the day John Paul II died, Benedict XVI said, "His agony was beheld by all this "day," in this space-time that is the new ' "eighth day," desired by the Holy Trinity through the work of the Incarnate Word, dead and risen.
"In this spiritual dimension,” the Holy Father said that “Pope John Paul II repeatedly demonstrated that he was some way immersed in this mystery during his life, especially in carrying out the mission of the Supreme Pontiff."
Since childhood, Karol Wojtyla experienced the truth of St. Paul's words, 'if we die with him, we shall also live with him. If we persevere with him, we also reign with him" (2 Tim 2,11-12), the Pope said.
The Holy Father then walked through the life of Karol Wojtyla, narrating his way of the cross.
He encountered these words in facing his way of the cross, that of his family and his people. He soon decided carry his cross together with Jesus, following in his footsteps. He wanted to be his faithful servant, to accept the call to the priesthood, and to commit his entire life as a gift. He did all of this through the unique mediation of Mary, Mother of the Church, Mother of the Redeemer and effectively intimately associated with the saving mystery of his death and resurrection, Pope Benedict reflected.
Speaking of the evening of Saturday, April 2, 2005 when news of John Paul II's death reached the crowds in St. Peter's Square, Pope Benedict said, "For several days the Vatican Basilica and the square were really the heart of the world. A river of pilgrims made uninterrupted tribute to the venerable body of the Pope and his funeral marked a further testimony of the affection and esteem, which he had won in the souls of many believers and people from every part of the world."
Speaking of John Paul II's legacy and final witness, the Pontiff said, "He had an extraordinary faith in Christ, and with Him entertained an intimate conversation, unique and unbroken. Among his many human qualities and supernatural gifts, [John Paul II] also had an exceptional spiritual and mystical sensitivity. It was enough observe when he prayed: he was literally immersed in God, and it seemed that everything else in those moments was extraneous.
In addition, daily mass was for John Paul II a "living and holy" reality that was the center of each day, and that gave him the spiritual energy necessary to guide the People of God in the unfolding of history, Pope Benedict noted.
To observe him during liturgical celebrations was to be present to the mystery in act; he had an ability to capture the eloquence of the Word of God in the future of history, at the depths of God's plan," the Pope said.
Pope Benedict also turned to John Paul II’s constant encouragement "'Do not be afraid!' and tied it to the suffering he endured. “He always delivered with uncompromising firmness, first brandishing the pastoral staff culminating in the cross and then, when his physical energies were waning, almost clinging to it, until the last Good Friday when he participated in the Way of the Cross in his private Chapel, clinging to the cross.”
"We can not forget that in his last silent witness of love for Jesus. Even the eloquent scene of human suffering and faith on that last Good Friday, showed believers and the world the secret of the whole Christian life. His "Do not be afraid" was not based on human strength, or about successes, but only on the Word of God on the Cross and the Resurrection of Christ.”
Pope John Paul II’s conformity to Christ lasted until the end of his life, Benedict explained.
"Gradually, he was stripped of everything, down to those last words, his trust in Christ appeared with growing evidence. As it happened to Jesus, it happened with John Paul II to the very end when the words took place of the final sacrifice, the gift of self. And death was the seal of the whole existence given to Christ. [John Paul II] conformed himself to Christ even physically in the case of suffering and the complete confident abandonment in the arms of the Heavenly Father. According to a witness who was nearby, "Let's go to the Father", were his last words to fulfill a life of total striving to know and contemplate the face of the Lord."