My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This weekend I am in Rome for the 30th anniversary of the dedication of the Polish Home of the John Paul II Foundation, which was dedicated by Pope John Paul II himself in 1981 as a pilgrimage house for visitors from Poland. Since the death of Pope John Paul II, the John Paul II Foundation has taken on the added function of serving as a research center of his pontificate. I have the privilege of serving as vice chairman on the board of directors of the John Paul II Foundation. Oct. 22 is also being observed in Rome and in Poland with votive Masses on the anniversary of his inauguration as Pope.
As authorized by our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, I designated Holy Masses to be celebrated throughout our diocese last Sunday in thanksgiving for the beatification of Blessed John Paul II on the 33rd anniversary of his election as Pope on Oct. 16, 1978.
We have much for which to give thanks for the papacy of Blessed John Paul II. Personally, I am thankful for many things. First of all, I am grateful for the fact that he was Polish. As a boy growing up in a very Polish neighborhood, it was not unusual to hear Polish jokes ridiculing Polish people as being dumb.
When Cardinal Karol Wojty?a of Kraków was elected Pope, I remember hearing the news from a law school classmate who simply asked if I had heard that a Polish cardinal had been elected Pope. I responded, "OK, what's the punch line?" He said, no, it was true. But it was hard to believe since a non-Italian had not been elected Pope for over 400 years.
I did notice that Polish jokes started to disappear or at least diminish after his election. After all, as was obvious from his voluminous writings, Pope John Paul II was one of the most intelligent popes the Catholic Church has ever had.
I am personally grateful for the many opportunities I had to see Pope John Paul II in person. The first time was in 1979 when he came to Chicago. From 1987 to 1991, when I was doing my graduate studies in Rome, on several occasions I had the opportunity to celebrate Mass with the Holy Father in his private chapel. In 1988, my brothers and sisters and I gave our Mom and Dad a gift for their 40th wedding anniversary of a trip to Italy and to Poland. While they were in Rome, we had the opportunity to attend Mass at the pope's summer home in Castel Gandolfo with a group of American bishops who were on their ad limina visit. The Mass was in English and my Dad was asked to do the first reading. That was certainly a memorable occasion.
As chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago, I accompanied Cardinal George to Rome in 1997 when he received his pallium, the symbol of being the shepherd of the Archdiocese of Chicago; in 1998 in Rome when Cardinal George received his red hat as a Cardinal; and in 1999 in Mexico City when Pope John Paul II signed the post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Ecclesia in America.
On Jan. 1, 2000 I ran the Rome jubilee marathon of the new millennium, which started in St. Peter's Square. The Pope blessed all of the marathon runners and wished us, "Buona maratona! ("Have a good marathon!)
In October 2002 when I was a pastor I accompanied our parish youth to World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II in Toronto, Canada. My first ad limina visit to Rome as a bishop was in 2004, and as it turned out that was the last time I saw him alive. As he left the room at the conclusion of his visit with the bishops of our region of Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, he blessed us. His holiness was radiant and I felt immediately that it was a special moment of saying goodbye.
Most of all, I am grateful that Pope John Paul II appointed me to be a bishop in 2003. It is a real privilege to have been named a bishop by a pope who has been beatified and someday, I am confident, will be canonized as a saint.
In addition to my personal gratitude, the whole church has much for which to be grateful. There are his apostolic visits: Pope John Paul II visited 129 countries during his time as Pope, including 9 visits to Poland, eight visits to France, seven visits to the United States (including two stopovers in Alaska), five visits to Mexico and Spain, and four visits to Brazil, Portugal, and Switzerland.
There is his canonization of saints: Pope John Paul II canonized 483 saints, more than the combined total of all of his predecessors. His purpose in canonizing so many saints was to show that being a saint should not be seen as a rare event, but as something to which we are all called.
There are his writings and promulgation of official documents: two Codes of Canon Law, one for the Latin Church and on for Eastern Churches; the Catechism of the Catholic Church; his books, poetry, apostolic constitutions, letters and exhortations; his weekly Angelus reflections (especially his Theology of the Body); his 14 encyclicals on almost every important theme of Catholic life — the Trinity, Mary, St. Joseph, on work and social concerns, on human life, on moral theology, faith and reason, ecumenism, the Eucharist and on the apostles to the Slavic peoples, Ss. Cyril and Methodius.
Pope John Paul II led us into the New Millennium and embarked on the New Evangelization. All of us could come up with our own lists, for he touched so many lives and there is so much for which we should be thankful.
The motto of Pope John Paul II was Totus Tuus, "I am all yours." It expressed his personal consecration to Mary, but all that is Mary's is also God's. As Blessed John Paul II gave his whole life to God, he provides an inspiring example of love and dedication for us all to emulate.
May God give us this grace. Amen.