.- Through his physical weakness and his infirmities, Pope John Paul II continues to inspire Catholics to persevere in the face of pain and to teach them that all suffering can draw them closer to Christ.
"Every human form of pain contains in itself a divine promise of salvation and joy," the Pope said in Sunday’s message. "I would like that this message of comfort and hope reaches everyone, especially those going through difficult moments, and who suffer in body and spirit."
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last week that Vatican officials say the Pope considers this phase in his papal teaching to be just as important as his days traveling the globe. Rather than hide his ailments, as past popes have done, he is displaying them and challenging society and its negative views of age and sickness.
The also Inquirer interviewed aging members of Philadelphia’s Polish community and reported that many found a sense of fellowship and solidarity with the suffering Pope.
Mary Romanowski, 90, has severe arthritis. The daughter of the Polish-speaking woman said her mother is strengthened by the Pope’s example.
"Whenever she feels worse, because she has good days and bad days, she always thinks about him because he's carrying his cross, and she wants to carry the cross of Christ with him," Theresa Romanowski said, translating for her mother. "She wishes she could take his pain more for herself.”
The Pope also inspires Ed Daniel, a churchgoing Catholic, who limps from a bad hip.
"Just like Christ died on the cross for us, he is doing the same thing," said the 70-year-old volunteer custodian at the Polish American Cultural Center in Society Hill. "It has a big meaning for us because we've all got to suffer one way or another."
Michael Blichasz, president of the Polish American Cultural Center, told the newspaper that many of the elderly residents at the center "say they are praying for him [the Pope] to stay where he is" and have stable health.
"I think people were taught a lesson by this, that he hasn't given up, so they shouldn't give up, either."