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Saint John Paul II: "Do not be afraid of the Cross of Christ"...

(Vatican Radio ) Saint John Paul II was the first Roman Pontiff ever to allow the world to scrutinise him so closely in his physical failings. Perhaps the key to this lack of fear in the face of suffering lay in his great faith.

Already in New Zealand back in 1986 he gave us a clue of this firmness in faith while meeting with some of the frailer members of society when he said : " It was the suffering and death of Christ which displayed the works of God most eloquently ".

Five years before he pronounced these words this Polish Pope, once an energetic sportsman brimming with health, had suddenly closed ranks with these frailer members of society.

It's a well- known story, one sprung on us, on a sunny and relaxed Spring afternoon in May 1981. The Pope stands Samson like and agile in his white cassock on a white jeep, in a crowded Saint Peter's Square, athletically reaching out to make physical contact with as many pilgrims as possible, when out of the blue gun shots ring out, he falters, is wounded, is rushed to hospital.

And from his hospital bed he gains first hand knowledge of what it means to be ill, deepening his insight into the effect physical suffering has on the human psyche ..An awareness he expressed half a decade later on this occasion in New Zealand when he also stated : " Perhaps some of you may ask God why you have been singled out for a life that is differen from the lives of ther people but in the Providence of God a different life does not mean a less important life, it does not mean a life with less potential for holiness or for contributing to the well being of the world .."...

John Paul II did not know back then to what extent his own life would be affected by physical suffering, how it would slowly begin to affect his every gesture. How the press would zoom in with their cameras scrutinising his physical failings, from his inability to stoop and kiss the soil of a nation when he travelled, to the shaky hand when he read his speeches and eventually to the incapacity to walk and to correctly pronounce words.

He allowed the world to witness all this, a decision in strong contrast with modern trends where the rule of thumb is to hide all physical failing. The images that reached us brought home how he remained firm in his faith, never faltering in his commitment as head of the Catholic Church.

His was a powerful witness to spiritual and moral strength. One forged perhaps in the early stages of life. He lost his mother at the age of ten, his elder brother just into his teens and was more broadly affected by the harsh scenario affecting him as young man, the wartime experience , the years of concealment and resistance ...

Listen to this programme presented and produced by Veronica Scarisbrick which includes the witness of an American Cardinal who personally knew Karol Wojtyla even before his election to the See of Peter and exclusive sound in English from our Vatican Radio archives such as this memorable excerpt: "Do not be afraid when life requires sacrifice, do not be afraid of the Cross of Christ, the Cross is the Tree of Life, it is the source of all joy and peace."



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