1. On the eve of the Solemnity of Divine Mercy, on April 2, 2005, the Lord called to Himself Pope John Paul II, who had directed the Universal Church for over a quarter of a century. Out of this life passed an outstanding leader and pastor, theologian and philospher, a poet who valued all the arts, a brilliant witness to the Gospel. A Pontiff died, who in life was open to other people and to the whole world, who tirelessly recalled the dignity of the human person, his rights and freedoms and who sought to defend them. In his ministry, John Paul II firmly proposed moral principles, spoke out for social justice and peace. He knew how to read the signs of the times and worthily respond to its challenges, guided by the principles of the Gospel. Our decased Holy Father, who returned to the world a hope it had lost, truly was the conscience of our epoch.
During the term of the pontificate of John Paul II, the Church made great strides in renewal and development in accordance with the decrees of the Second Vatican Council and post-conciliar teachings. She became more open to the world, to other religions and confessions. The barque of the Church raised high its sails, so as to go out into the deep (cf. Luke 5:4) and undertake a more effective pastoral and social activity in accordance with the demands of the time.
John Paul II was the Moses of our age, leading the Church into the third millennium. Moreover, he led her into this new period by indicating the basic direction of pastoral activity suitable for the modern stage of the Church’s development. He tirelessly emphasized the necessity of beginning everything from Christ, contemplating His Face (cf. Apostolic letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 16, 29).
At the center of all pastoral action, the Pope placed the Savior to whom Mary always leads us. The call with which he began his pontificate: “Be not afraid! Open the doors to Christ!” was realized in the fall of totalitarian regimes, especially in Eastern Europe, the peoples of which began to tread the road to democracy and to obtain basic rights, among which is the right to religious freedom. Thanks to his ministry, many people felt the inner necessity to search for lasting values.
As the Slavic Pope, John Paul II particularly loved Russia. How many gestures of good will and signs of respect were made during his pontificate to our homeland, to the Russian Orthodox Church, and to the great Russian culture! Have we taken notice of them? Have we appreciated their scale and worth? Have we supported the efforts of this Pontiff to see that Europe breathe with both its lungs, the East and the West? Have we taken advantage of all the opportunities that the Pope has tirelessly offered us during the course of more than twenty-six years?
The restoration of the structures of the Catholic Chuch in Russia are linked to the name of John Paul II. We must never forget his constant prayer and support. During our last meeting in Rome’s Gemelli hospital, on the 8th of May of this year, the Pope asked me: “What is the news in Moscow?”. This last question of head of the Universal Church is left to us as a testament…
May it be for us a key question in our examination of conscience! Let us constantly ask ourselves: What is the news in Moscow? How are things going in the Archdiocese? What can we, together and as individuals, do for their improvement? Do we live in accordance with the moral principles of the Gospel and the teaching of the Church?
The Golgotha of the last months of the life of John Paul II are a stunning model of how to fulfill the will of God and an example of how in weakness the titanic power of the spirit, capable of changing the world, is revealed. His silent expiration with joy and entrustment of himself to Mary became the most eloquent of sermons for the modern world.
All of this won for this Pontiff the fitting respect of the whole world, respect not only among Catholics, but also among representatives of various religions and confessions, people of good will, politicians, cultural leaders and so forth. His illness and death united the world in prayer and solidarity. The passing of the Pope became a sort of spiritual exercises of unprecedented size and scope. Millions of people from all corners of the world strove to pay their respects and bid farewell to the Pontiff lying in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Billions, including many Russian viewers, were enabled to do the same by the means of mass communication, the organizers of which deserve our thanks.
The funeral of the head of the Universal Church became a hitherto unprecedented “summit’ of politicians and spiritual leaders of the entire planet. Politicians who came to Rome unreconciled with one another shared a handshake of peace on St. Peter’s square during the burial of the Pope.
People cried and applauded simultaneously. Tears for the great loss were also signs of gratitude. Veneration of John Paul II, arising at once after his death and quickly spreading around the world, underline the true scale of the person of the deceased and allow us to hope for the speedy commencement of the process which would lead to the official recognition of his worthiness.
So ends the epoch of the service of Pope Wojtyla, already named John Paul the Great, a pontificate, the full value of which it must be left to historians to measure.
Life does not stand still, however; it moves forward. However great the loss, we look upon it through the prism of the Resurrection, hoping for this Pontiff to be “Great” also in the Heavenly Kingdom and to become our intercessor.
2. The Church, as a living organism, can not remain without a head. In accordance with church law, the College of Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church must choose a successor to John Paul II. The choice is made in a meeting of cardinals, known as the “conclave”. This means that the cardinals remain “under key”, “locked in”, isolated from the world, praying and meditating on the future of the Church, as they choose its new head. The conclave will begin on April 18th.
It must always be kept in mind that the election of the head of the Church, one of the largest religious bodies in the world, numbering over a billion believers, differs fundamentally from those elections,which regularly take place in society. To the Pontiff in a special way is entrusted the service, once entrusted by Christ to the apostle Peter. In virtue of his position, he has in the Church full, immediate and universal ordinary power (cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 331). The Pontiff, being the head of the College of Bishops, together with them rules the Church and determines the basic direction of her development in accordance with the needs of the times.
What a responsibility and what a cross!
Without doubt, the head of the Church will be chosen by the Holy Spirit. However, He does this through the Cardinals who are His instruments.
John Paul II, in the Apostolic constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis,” written February 22, 1996, concerning a vacancy of the Apostolic See and the election of the leading priest of Rome, says: “During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, and above all during the time of the election of the Successor of Peter, the Church is united in a very special way with her Pastors and particularly with the Cardinal electors of the Supreme Pontiff, and she asks God to grant her a new Pope as a gift of his goodness and providence. Indeed, following the example of the first Christian community spoken of in the Acts of the Apostles (cf. 1:14), the universal Church, spiritually united with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, should persevere with one heart in prayer; thus the election of the new Pope will not be something unconnected with the People of God and concerning the College of electors alone, but will be in a certain sense an act of the whole Church. I therefore lay down that in all cities and other places, at least the more important ones, as soon as news is received of the vacancy of the Apostolic See and, in particular, of the death of the Pope, and following the celebration of his solemn funeral rites, humble and persevering prayers are to be offered to the Lord (cf. Mt 21:22; Mk 11:24), that he may enlighten the electors and make them so likeminded in their task that a speedy, harmonious and fruitful election may take place, as the salvation of souls and the good of the whole People of God demand. (n. 84)”
Therefore, our holy duty is to pray to God so that through the choice of the College of Cardinals the Holy Spirit will indicate who shall stand at the helm of the barque of Peter and steer the Church’s boat into the future across the stormy seas of the beginning of the 21st century.
May the Holy Spirit deign to show the will of God, to indicate to whom Christ repeats the words said to the apostle Peter 2000 years ago: “Feed my sheep” (John 21.17).
3. Beloved brothers and sisters!
Let our prayers rise up to Almighty God, so that the College of Cardinals chooses the most worthy and able person to be the Peter of our day, to be “rock” (cf. Mt. 16.18), to be the head of the Universal Church.
May the Providence of God place in this role a man who strives, as the testament of John Paul II asks, for a successful realization of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and for a fruitful development of the Church for the glory of God and the salvation of men.
With my blessing,
Metropolitan Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz
Moscow, 12 April, 2005
The priests are respectfully requested to read this appeal to the faithful on 17 April 2005. Additionally, when praying for the deceased Pope John Paul II, let them together with their flock also pray for the election of a new head of the Universal Church, using for this purpose on ferial days the special texts for this intention in the Roman missal