Few popes in the 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church have had so momentous an impact on the Church and the world at large as the man we can now properly call John Paul the Great. The Knights of Columbus always had a close bond with Pope John Paul II. When the pope was travelling to countries to bring the faith to the masses, the Knights funded satellite links to bring the pope’s message to many more people. Pope John Paul II referred to the Order as a “strong right arm of the Church” for their support for the Church and local communities, as well as for their philanthropic efforts.
John Paul, the successor of Peter as head of the universal church, made it into a truly global church, traveling to nearly every nation on earth, and reaching out to the world’s five billion people in ways that were unprecedented.
John Paul demonstrated courage as a young man suffering under Nazi occupation, as priest and bishop standing up to communist tyranny, as victim of an assassination attempt, and finally as one who taught us the importance of enduring pain and suffering in union with Christ’s suffering — is an inspiration to all of us.
John Paul’s teachings on the dignity of the human person and on the sanctity of human life are immeasurable contributions to the modern world, as we contemplate the ways in which we must leave the carnage and destruction of the 20th century behind us forever. He was truly the Pope of Peace, whose commitment to the cause of peace is unmatched in our time.
Because of the Knights of Columbus close ties to the pope, they established the Saint John Paul II National Shrine. Faithful to the mission and legacy of the John Paul II Cultural Center, which previously occupied the premises, the Knights began the renovations required to convert the building into its present form: a place of worship seamlessly integrated with a major permanent exhibition and opportunities for cultural and religious formation.
Pope John Paul established the feast of Divine Mercy as part of the canonization in 2000 of St. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun who died in 1938 after experiencing numerous revelations about the nature and breadth of God’s love and mercy. The Gospel reading of the day features Christ’s commission to the apostles to forgive sins.
“My daughter, tell the whole world about My inconceivable mercy. 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… It is My desire that it be solemnly celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter. Mankind will not have peace until it turns to the Fount of My Mercy.” (Diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, no. 699)
These are the words spoken by Jesus in 1936 to Sister Faustina Kowalska of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. Since then, the Catholic Church has taken significant steps in promoting devotion to Divine Mercy.
Extolling the love and mercy of God at her canonization Mass, Pope John Paul II proclaimed that the Second Sunday of Easter, “from now on throughout the Church will be called “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
“I have thought about how the Church can make clear its mission of being a witness of mercy,” Pope Francis said. “It’s a journey that starts with a spiritual conversion. For this reason I have decided to declare an Extraordinary Jubilee that has the mercy of God at its center. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy.”
Pope John Paul II mirrored Divine Mercy most eloquently on December 27, 1983, when he visited the man who attempted to kill him some 18 months before. On May 13, 1981, Mehmet Ali Agca fired his gun as the pope rode in an open car greeting thousands of devotees in St. Peter’s Square. One of the bullets nearly killed the pope, missing vital organs by millimeters.
The pope’s visit to Agca’s jail cell lasted some 20 minutes, with the prisoner kissing the hand of the pope in a gesture of respect. The visit was captured in a poignant photo, the pontiff in white and the would-be assassin huddled together, deep in conversation. The photo conveyed more clearly than any words ever could a profound message of forgiveness. Such readiness to forgive can only be a reflection of the Divine Mercy that the pope so fervently promoted.