As I followed the events surrounding the beatification of Pope John Paul II, my mind went back to the years in the early 1990's when I was a student in Rome. Living in the Eternal City gave me the wonderful blessing of being able to participate in numerous papal liturgies.
Always memorable were those held in St. Peter's Square at Christmas and Easter. As was the custom, Pope John Paul II would address greetings on those occasions in languages too numerous to count! After each greeting a loud cry would go up from some section of the huge crowd. This was a tremendous experience of the diversity of our Church united around the Successor of Peter. He was everyone's Pope and we knew that we belonged together as one family because of the common bond we shared with him.
Now Blessed John Paul II is uniting us again. This time he does so through the Church's official confirmation of his sanctity. His extraordinarily rich papacy was a great blessing for the Church, but it is not the reason for his beatification. He is beatified because of his holiness of life. The call to holiness is universal, shared by all the baptized. The events of May 1st in St Peter's Square remind all of us that our unity as Catholics is maintained not only through communion with the Holy Father but also, and fundamentally, by living out faithfully our common vocation to become saints.
In service of this vocation I dedicated today our new Saint Joseph Seminary. In collaboration with its sister institution, Newman Theological College, it is dedicated to helping people answer the call, issued especially to the young by Blessed John Paul, to become saints of the new millennium. By fostering in the hearts of our seminarians an intimate communion of life and love with Jesus Christ, the seminary desires to help them know personally the transformative power of God's grace and the joy of new life in the Lord. Only in this way will they be able later as priests to remind others, by both word and witness, of the call to holiness and encourage them to embrace it.
The new blessed has also influenced our seminary by clarifying the context in which it must fulfill its mission. To the Church the new Blessed gave Novo Millennio Ineunte as the map to guide us across the threshold of the new millennium. He took as his principal source for reflection the first encounter between Jesus and St. Peter as recorded in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Pope John Paul focused upon the instruction of the Lord to St. Peter, and extended that same injunction to the entire Church: “Duc in Altum!” Put out into the deep! Jesus knew exactly where the nets were to be let down on the Sea of Galilee, and he knows precisely where the Church must cast its nets in the deep waters of today.
This call, Duc in Altum, is echoed symbolically in the bronze doors of the chapel of our seminary, because it is counted among the very first seminaries to be built in the new millennium. The design serves as a reminder to all that we are training men to be priests of the new evangelization, sent into the deep waters of our day under the direction of Jesus Christ. Only if we begin in and from the Lord will the catch be abundant. Apart from him, we shall simply “work hard all night but catch nothing.”
Thank you, Blessed Pope John Paul II! We implore your intercession, that we may embrace with joy and hope our call to holiness and be courageous witnesses in this new millennium to the beauty and power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.