Saint John Paul II: The Pope Who Taught Us Not to Be Afraid

Pope St. John Paul II

As we celebrate the feast of St John Paul II, October 22nd, my thoughts to this great Pope of the Church, along with a phrase which spontaneously comes to my heart and mind: Be not afraid.

In his memoir Crossing the Threshold of Hope, St John Paul II said that it was the Holy Spirit who prompted him to pronounce those powerful words. When, on October 22, 1978, I said the words “Be not afraid!” in St. Peter’s Square, I could not fully know how far they would take me and the entire Church. Their meaning came more from the Holy Spirit, the Consoler promised by the Lord Jesus to His disciples, than from the man who spoke them.

Moreover, he also said why he would revisit this phrase again and again throughout his long papacy. He said: The exhortation “Be not afraid!” should be interpreted as having a very broad meaning. In a certain sense it was an exhortation addressed to all people, an exhortation to conquer fear in the present world situation … Why should we have no fear? Because man has been redeemed by God. When pronouncing these words in St. Peter’s Square, I already knew that my first encyclical and my entire papacy would be tied to the truth of the Redemption. In the Redemption we find the most profound basis for the words “Be not afraid!”: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (cf. Jn 3:16).

As this courageous Polish Pontiff sees it, there is no situation which can rob us from hoping in our Lord. Since Jesus Christ is the Lord of history no force of darkness can ever put us in despair. Jesus Christ is our true love. In His presence any evil influence, including of course fear, is destined to vanish absolutely. He wrote: Peoples and nations of the entire world need to hear these words. Their conscience needs to grow in the certainty that Someone exists who holds in His hands the destiny of this passing world … And this Someone is Love.

Here are some beautiful reflections by St John Paul II who greatly encourage us to never be afraid. First, we are neve to be afraid because salvation is universal. The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. 

Second, we are never to be afraid because we come from the Father’s love. We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son Jesus. Third, we are never to be afraid because real conjugal love is built on sacrifices and self-denial. He stated: Love between man and woman cannot be built without sacrifices and self-denial. Fourth, we are never to be afraid, because the institution of the family is the sacrament of salvation amongst us. St John Paul II reflected: The history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of the family… The family is placed at the center of the great struggle between good and evil, between life and death, between love and all that is opposed to love.

Sixth, we are never to be afraid due to the power of Mary’s example. He said: From Mary we learn to surrender to God’s Will in all things. From Mary we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary we learn to love Christ, her Son and the Son of God! Seventh, we are never to be afraid because Mary’s YES sustains our YES to God. He wrote: May Mary, who in the freedom of her ‘Fiat’ and her presence at the foot of the cross, offered to the world, Jesus, the Liberator, help us to find him in the Sacrament of the altar. Eighth, we are never to be afraid because St Joseph is protecting our families. The Polish Pontiff expressed this when he said: St Joseph was a just man, a tireless worker, the upright guardian of those entrusted to his care. May he always guard, protect and enlighten families. Ninth, we are never to be afraid because Christ conquered evil and faced suffering constructively. St John Paul II said: 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 borne for us, and does not now bear with us. Tenth, we are never to be afraid because Jesus’ way the more difficult it is the more it leads to greater glory. The Holy Father said: The way Jesus shows you is not easy. Rather, it is like a path winding up a mountain. Do not lose heart! The steeper the road, the faster it rises towards ever wider horizons.

Only when we experience Jesus’ personal love for us in this manner can we endorse the following commitments St John Paul II presents to us: Real love is demanding. I would fail in my mission if I did not tell you so. Love demands a personal commitment to the will of God. Do not forget that true love sets no conditions; it does not calculate or complain, but simply loves. Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought. Love of Christ does not distract us from interest in others, but rather invites us to responsibility for them, to the exclusion of no one.

What a grace of God St John Paul II has been to us and to the whole world by teaching us not to be afraid!

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Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap was born in San Gwann on August 26 1972. After being educated in governmental primary and secondary schools as well as at the Naxxar Trade School he felt the call to enter the Franciscan Capuchin Order. After obtaining the university requirements he entered the Capuchin friary at Kalkara on October 12 1993. A year after he was ordained a priest, precisely on 4 September 2004, his superiors sent him to work with patients as a chaplain first at St. Luke's Hospital and later at Mater Dei. In 2007 Fr Mario obtained a Master's Degree in Hospital Chaplaincy from Sydney College of Divinity, University of Sydney, Australia. From November 2007 till March 2020 Fr Mario was one of the six chaplains who worked at Mater Dei Hospital., Malta's national hospital. Presently he is a chaplain at Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. Furthermore, he is a regular contributor in the MUMN magazine IL-MUSBIEĦ, as well as doing radio programmes on Radio Mario about the spiritual care of the sick.