“We loved this Pope,” stated Antonietta Mascolo who came from Bologna to attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II on Friday, April 8, 2005. An estimated four million people converged on Vatican City for his funeral, despite the hardships that included long train rides and sleeping on the streets for many.
“We loved this Pope” succinctly explains why people flocked to Vatican City to pray in the waning days of John Paul II’s life, and millions flocked to the Vatican to view his remains. Pilgrims from John Paul II’s native Poland endured twenty-five-hour-long bus trips to pay their respects to their beloved countryman.
Heads of state from 200 countries attended his funeral - probably the largest such gathering in human history. Hundreds of millions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike watched on television as mourners streamed past his casket, after waiting for hours to get one last glimpse of the Holy Father.
What was the reason for this outpouring of love? Simply, John Paul II reflected the love of Christ. He wrote, “The gift of faith is given to us so that by word and example we may become witnesses before others.” John Paul II bore witness to Christ in many ways. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus commissioned His disciples saying, “Go and make disciples of all nations....teaching them all to obey what I have commanded you.” John Paul II brought the Gospel message to as many countries as was humanly possible for one person. With each visit, he called all to defend the sacredness of human life and obey the Biblical Command, “Thou shalt not kill.”
A great defender of the Sanctity of Human Life, John Paul II wrote, “Man’s life comes from God; it is His gift, His image and imprint, a sharing in His breath of life. God therefore is the sole Lord of this life: man cannot do with it as he wills”. John Paul II’s The Gospel of Life eloquently defends the sacredness of human life and discusses practices such as abortion, euthanasia, and infanticide that threaten our culture.
John Paul II bore witness to the Gospel in the way he lived his life and bore his responsibilities and sufferings: “Those who wish to be My disciples must deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23 Those crosses became more apparent to the world as the Holy Father struggled through operations and illnesses.
John Paul II gave generously of himself . The Holy Father was said to have spent as many as seven hours a day in prayer for the world. He was an example of true holiness and people recognized this. At his funeral the faithful were calling Pope John Paul II,“Saint”. Catholic authors told readers to refer to him as Pope John Paul the Great. One month after his death, newspapers in Ireland reported his life and death inspired young Irish men to devote their lives to the priesthood. Calls to vocations offices were seven times the normal number if inquiries, so powerful was his example. It would be impossible to calculate his influence on our world, but it is already clear that it will extend well beyond his earthly life.