May 16, 2006
April 2 marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II. Looking back at the Pope’s life, we see a remarkable man of many accomplishments who has left a permanent mark upon the world. This holy man will forever be remembered for the many extraordinary characteristics he exhibited, one of which was his exceptional devotion to the youth of the world.
John Paul II displayed a special affection for youth from his early priesthood days. At age 29, he was sent to a university parish in Krakow, where he immediately became deeply involved in the lives of the students, establishing a “Living Rosary” prayer circle and interacting with the youth, both in one-on-one meetings as a spiritual director and counselor and in larger group activities such as hiking, camping, and weekend retreats.
As pope, John Paul II continued to work tirelessly for the youth, emphasizing the important role of the family. He strongly advocated day-care centers for working families and special programs for disabled children. Perhaps most significantly, he began the tradition of World Youth Day, a time set aside for the Church’s youth to gather together to celebrate and renew their commitment to the gospel. This practice still continues today, two decades after its founding, and this past August, I was fortunate enough to attend the twentieth World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany.
What was the reason for the special bond that existed between the Pope and the youth of the world? Perhaps it was simply the result of shared interests. Throughout his life, John Paul II exhibited an energetic love of life, characteristic of many of the young people who surrounded him. He always loved sports and the outdoors, as well as art and intellectual discussions. These interests gave him a special way to connect with young people. And as he grew older, he drew inspiration and hope from the youth, and he loved to spend time with children of all ages. Perhaps this connection was the cause of the Pope’s fondness for young people.
But perhaps it was something much deeper. Perhaps John Paul II’s special display of devotion and affection for the youth of the world was the result of profound insight and wisdom. Maybe the pontiff realized the great importance of the youth as the Church’s future and knew the significance of the role they would have to play in combating the overwhelming sinfulness of today’s world. Perhaps the Pope looked at the Church’s young people and saw their great potential to become a powerful force capable of changing the modern culture of declining morality. With this insight, he worked to unite and transform the youth into a spiritual army, which, when led by the Holy Spirit, would be strong enough to conquer every enemy.