As I depart from Rome after this historic event I offer a final two-part reflection on the ministry of Pope and John Paul II’s visit to Australia.
The Gospels offer us a number of very moving vignettes of Jesus’ encounters with the first predecessor of Sts John XXIII & John Paul II, St Peter: the call to “Come follow me & I will make you a fisher of men”; Peter’s profession of faith “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” and Jesus’ response “You are Peter, the bedrock on which I’ll build my Church… I give you the keys to bind & loose”; Jesus’ further charges to Peter “Be not afraid… Confirm the brethren… Do this in memory of me… Feed my sheep… Try again: cast your net into the deep… Go out to all the world & proclaim the Gospel.” It is to texts such as these that we return time & again to discover role of popes who would be saints.
Perhaps Jesus’ most touching encounter with the first pope was after his Resurrection. As Jesus had predicted, Peter had three times denied knowing him. Now Jesus requires him three times to profess his love. Peter does so immediately. Rather than reminding him about his failures Jesus presses him about what he will do next, do now, do instead.
At first Peter doesn’t understand what this is all about, but Jesus gives him intimations about his future & about the future of the Petrine office. You will lead the Church in difficult times, He warns. You will be led where you’d rather not go. You will suffer in the process. You will spend yourself completely for God & the Church.
John Paul II’s visit to Australia.
St John Paul’s longest apostolic journey, of the many he made, was in 1986 when he travelled 30,000 miles to Bangladesh, Singapore, Fiji, New Zealand, the Seychelles & of course Australia. In Sydney he held hands & danced in a conga-line with youngsters in jeans; in Melbourne he conducted an impromptu Q&A with primary school kids; in Alice Springs he encouraged Aboriginal Australians in their struggle for justice & reconciliation; in Brisbane he visited a hospital & cradled a koala; and in my own Diocese of Parramatta – then only a few months old – he wore a hard hat in a factory & told workers about the dignity of work. He made a deep impression upon Australians.
When Jesus told Peter about his mission as Pope – Papa for the Church & Vicar of Christ – he said he must feed or shepherd the sheep of Christ’s flock. But he added that he must feed the lambs. The young Christians that would come in the future mattered a lot to the Risen Christ. How was Peter to tend the lambs? World Youth Day was one of John Paul the Great’s brilliant pastoral moves in Petrine feeding of the lambs – one which we experienced in Australia in 2008 at the instance of his successor, Pope Benedict. Two great shepherd popes, Benedict and Francis, joined together yesterday to canonise two great shepherd popes, John and John Paul. Let us rejoice and be glad, Alleluia!