Dear friends. Without doubt, the person who influenced my life most apart from my parents, was Pope John Paul II. Tomorrow, 18th May, marks the centenary of his birth. There are many biographies written about John Paul II and the titles reveal the stature of the person he was. One is called ‘Man of the Century’. Another is called ‘Man of the Millennium’. His best and biggest biography was written by the American journalist George Weigel and is called ‘Witness to Hope’. For me, that sums up the life of John Paul II. He was and continues to inspire millions as a witness to hope.
To thousands of young people gathered in Toronto in 2002 for World Youth Day, he spoke these words: ‘Although I have lived through much darkness under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young…do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it!’. These words tell us why Pope John Paul II was a witness to hope. On this occasion and so many others, he did precisely what St Peter asks us to do today in the second reading. To ‘always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope you have’.
For St John Paul II, his hope was grounded in the conviction that the ultimate victory belongs to Christ, a victory he had already won on the cross. It was a hope founded on the promise of Jesus as the Last Supper: ‘In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage for I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33). John Paul II lived through the loss of all his family, the horror of the Second World War, Communism, being shot and almost killed, bowel cancer, Parkinsons disease and many more trials. Yet, he never lost hope.
Today, we need hope. The world needs hope. So what then is the reason for our hope? The same as it was for St John Paul II – that Christ has already overcome all things and is still present and active in the world through this pandemic. His love will overcome all evil, darkness and despair. This is what John Paul witnessed to all his life as a Christian of Easter hope.
But how can we share this hope in simple and everyday ways? First by daily prayer – by ‘reverencing the Lord Christ in your hearts’ as Peter asks us in the second reading. Every day, allow the Spirit of hope to become alive in your heart – the Spirit that Jesus promises in the Gospel is ‘with you and within you’. By doing this, our hope is founded in God and not some optimism that things will return as they were before. Here is what everyday hope looks like:
Hope for the elderly who feel lonely in these long days - that you are still loved and remembered. Hope for our elderly in nursing homes – that we think of you everyday even though we can’t visit you. Hope for those who have lost jobs – that you will get your job back or find another that suits you even better. Hope for young people and students – that this time of uncertainty may lead you to faith and trust in God who has a plan for your lives. Hope for the earth – that it recovers and heals in this time when we humans have slowed down. Hope for our communities – that the greater kindness being shown during this crisis is a valuable lesson of how much we need each other. Hope for the whole human family that we have become aware of in these weeks and from whose suffering we have been cocooned for too long.
Friends, I would like to conclude with a quote from St John Paul II, son of Poland and great witness to hope who came into this world 100 years ago tomorrow:
‘I plead with you. Never ever give up on hope. Never doubt, never tire and never be discouraged. Be not afraid!! There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us. There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered. There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already carried for us and does not bear with us now. Be not afraid!’.
St John Paul II, pray for us!