People around the world continue to draw strength from the way that St. John Paul II faced his final days, his former personal secretary said on the 16th anniversary of the Polish pope’s death.

Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz noted that this year’s anniversary fell on Good Friday amid a pandemic that has claimed more than 2,800,000 lives worldwide.

The 81-year-old Polish cardinal said that the last weeks of John Paul II’s 27-year pontificate offered a message of interpersonal solidarity.

“The lesson that John Paul II gave to the world when he was leaving for the Father’s house can be a source of consolation and solace for those who are desperate after the death of their loved ones, as well as for those who fear for their health and safety,” the retired Kraków archbishop told the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

Recalling John Paul II’s death at the age of 84 on April 2, 2005, Dziwisz said: “It was a humanly sad and painful time, but at the same time filled with some light.”

He noted that after the pope’s last breath those present sang the “Te Deum” in thanksgiving for John Paul II’s life, rather than reciting the “Eternal Rest” prayer.

Dziwisz said that the pope accepted his last years of infirmity and his approaching death “with humility and even with a certain serenity.”

“His humility was also manifested in the fact that he did not avoid cameras, meetings with people, although he knew that they could see his weakness and even his physical helplessness. It was courageous -- to show his suffering to the world. I think that it helped many sick people and people dying suffering from ailments of body and spirit.”

The cardinal said that the Stations of the Cross were an important part of John Paul II’s spirituality.

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Describing the pope as a man of the cross, Dziwisz said: “I was a daily witness to this way of the cross, his service, his bravery, his total entrustment to Jesus and His Mother.”

The cardinal added that the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the brevity of life and the urgency of reconciling with God and neighbor.

“For a meeting with the merciful Lord one has to be prepared at any time. This was also made clear to us by the pandemic, because many not only did not manage to say goodbye to their loved ones, but also left with the deadweight of hurt that they did not manage to forgive,” he said.

St. John Paul II died on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast that he established. The feast is preceded by a novena which begins on Good Friday.

Divine Mercy Sunday is rooted in the apparitions of Jesus to St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who recorded her conversations with Christ in the form of a diary.

In one diary entry, she said that Jesus told her: “I desire that the Feast of Mercy be a refuge and shelter for all souls, and especially for poor sinners. On that day the very depths of My tender mercy are open. I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy. The soul that will go to confession and receive Holy Communion shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins and punishment.”

Preaching at the canonization of St. Faustina on April 30, 2000, John Paul II said: “What will the years ahead bring us? What will man’s future on earth be like? We are not given to know. However, it is certain that in addition to new progress there will unfortunately be no lack of painful experiences.”

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“But the light of divine mercy, which the Lord in a way wished to return to the world through Sr. Faustina’s charism, will illumine the way for the men and women of the third millennium.”