Following the declaration by Pope Benedict XVI that his predecessor John Paul II lived a life of “heroic virtue,” CNA spoke with Carl Anderson, the head of the Knights of Columbus, who is very familiar with the late Pope. According to Anderson, John Paul II's life speaks directly to the problems society confronts today.
Reflecting on the timing of the declaration that the late Pontiff is Venerable, Anderson told CNA, “I think the timing of this declaration should remind us all that suffering is a necessary component of life - something with value that cannot be avoided and shouldn't be feared - especially not to the point of destroying life to eliminate suffering.”
If John Paul II was still alive, he would tell the faithful “to continue the new evangelization of our culture here, by working to create a just society in which the dignity of every human was respected,” the Supreme Knight said.
Asked how he thought Catholics today could work to build the civilization of love called for by John Paul II, Anderson said that they should imitate the late Pope's example of bringing the view point of faith to every issue.
The full interview with Carl Anderson can be read below.
CNA: Could you please explain what this declaration means for those unfamiliar with the process? How long do you think it will be before he is declared a saint?
Anderson: The declaration of venerable means that the Church has found that John Paul lived a life of "heroic virtue." It is an important step forward in his cause for sainthood. The next step would be - after further investigation by the Congregation for the Causes of Saints - would be for him to be declared blessed, which would require among many other things certification of a miracle, then after additional investigation and another certified miracle, he could be declared a saint. I don't think anyone can really predict how quickly this will happen. It's a process, a careful process, that takes time, but certainly things have been moving forward as quickly as is prudent.
CNA: Given the cultural and moral climate of the world, what do you think this says about God's timing for the declaration?
Anderson: I think it's really interesting timing because as the world continues to struggle with issues of suffering, and the dignity of life, John Paul is a reminder to us of a man who championed the dignity of the human person - from conception to natural death and at every moment in between. And in both his life and death he was an unmistakable witness to the Gospel. For one thing, he showed that suffering had meaning by living with it with such joy for decades. He lived a life in the most difficult political and family circumstances imaginable. He saw suffering in World War II, in the death of his mother, father and brother, and in his work -even from a young age - with the sick. I think the timing of this declaration should remind us all that suffering is a necessary component of life - something with value that cannot be avoided and shouldn't be feared - especially not to the point of destroying life to eliminate suffering.
CNA: How did John Paul II's papacy impact the United States and the Church here? What message do you think John Paul II would give to the Church in the U.S. if he were alive today?
Anderson: Even before he was Pope, John Paul II had visited the United States in the 1970s, and had a great understanding of this country. He saw this country before it saw him, and I think that was a very providential thing. In addition, John Paul's several visits to the United States and his call for a new evangelization were important to the United States and more broadly to the "American hemisphere." He considered America a great hope for the Church precisely because it is in this hemisphere that we have "a continent of baptized Christians." It is here - in this hemisphere - that the majority of people in most countries are Catholic, and even in those countries where Catholics are not the majority, like in the United States, they make up a significant minority. But even more important, the Church has remained vibrant here in this hemisphere, while the same cannot be said of Europe. I think John Paul would want us to continue the new evangelization of our culture here, by working to create a just society in which the dignity of every human was respected.
CNA: What was it like to be in John Paul's presence? Was he as jubilant and joyful as he appeared in front of crowds? How did you feel in his presence?
Anderson: When you were with John Paul, you definitely had the sense that you were in the presence of Christ's vicar on earth. For me, and for many others, his holiness was unmistakable, but so was his humanity, his sense of humor, his keen intellect. He was an incredible figure, intellectually, religiously, and personally, and it didn't take much time with him to see that.
CNA: Where do you think John Paul II drew his great hope for society from, despite the history of his own life and the past century?
Anderson: The Catholic Church - as Pope Benedict has pointed out - is based on the hope of constant and continual improvement because our ultimate hope is in God and our union with him in heaven. So we are, and John Paul was par excellence, people of hope. But his hope was also practical. He didn't just hope, he preached that hope and gave humanity a road map to a brighter future through a more just society in which every human person would be respected as a subject not an object based on their inherent human dignity as children of God.
In the end, John Paul had seen the worst of society, Naziism, Communism, etc., but he also understood that there was one thing that survived even in the midst of that oppression: love. Love, in John Paul's mind, was the force that could reshape the world.
CNA: How important is John Paul II's theology of the body for the Church and society?
Anderson: John Paul's theology of the body is very important because it shows the inherent value of marriage and the family as the fundamental building blocks of society. It also gives lay people a theology that is readily adapted and crafted for their own lives. Part of John Paul's brilliant legacy was his involvement of the laity, his empowerment of the laity, his encouragement of the laity to take action in, and evangelize in, the public square - in the sphere that was naturally theirs.
So in an era when marriage and family are under attack from a variety of forces, John Paul's explanation of the importance of both, through his theology of the body, is a great service to those trying to understand what the Church teaches and why. Our bodies, our marriages and our families are not merely for this sphere. They have an eschatological significance that John Paul helps us to properly understand.
With the theology of the body, married couples are empowered to take up their marriages theologically, to see God in the equation and to see the importance of giving to each a very great gift: the total gift of themselves.
CNA: How do you think John Paul II advises building a civilization of love? What should the average Catholic be doing to pursue this?
Anderson: I think many people - especially non-Catholics - tend to see John Paul's legacy as his role in the reshaping of Europe and the fall of Communism. But there is an important lesson there. John Paul was able to help facilitate such an important event precisely because he came to every political problem from the point of view of his faith. His faith was not something he thought should just be lived at home. No, his faith was what informed his every statement, his beliefs in what constituted a just society, his articulation of that belief. He took seriously the precepts of the faith including: "preach to all nations." And then, he led by the example of his own life.
We are called to do the same. To lead by example and bring our Catholic beliefs to bear on the problems we face in public or in private. Like John Paul we must be Catholics in all seasons.