The following letter appeared in the Milwaukee Catholic Herald on April 7, 2005. With the Beatification of Pope John Paul II on May 1st, I asked Fr. Don Hying, the Rector of St. Francis de Sales Seminary in Milwaukee and the author of the letter which was written while he was still pastor of Our Lady of Good Hope Parish in Milwaukee, for his permission to re-print his heartfelt words here, and of course, he generously agreed.
Dear Pope John Paul,
I've always wanted to write this letter to you, but somehow never took the time, so here I am saying these things as you lay dying. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I trust you will know and understand them. Likewise, I always wanted to meet you, yet despite my best efforts every time I was in Rome, it never came to be. It doesn't matter now-you are with all of us in the risen Christ.
Where do I begin? Words cannot begin to articulate what you have done for the church, the world, the poor, the dignity of the human person, millions of people and myself. The pundits will speak of your legacy-the countless trips you made, the saints you canonized, the new catechism you issued and the revision of canon law, your role in the collapse of communism and dictatorships, the indelible stamp you have left on the Catholic Church and this world. It's hard to imagine the church without you, the church before you, the church after you. You've been there through it all with us.
Thank you for your radiant faith in the risen Christ whom you have held up as the center of human history and the answer to all of our questions about life. Above all you are an evangelizer, a proclaimer of the Gospel, someone who wanted to embrace the entire world and tell every single person how much God loves us. Your fidelity and perseverance in this endeavor, year after year, stagger the imagination.
Thank you for your courageous defense of human life-the unborn, the elderly, the poor, the disabled, the dying. You have consistently upheld the glory of the human person made in the image and likeness of God. Race, color, religion, creed, poor, rich, none of it made any difference to you because you saw God in every person that you met-you who saw and were seen by more people than anyone in human history. You spoke and lived the Gospel of Life, regardless of resistance to it.
Thank you for your proclamation of freedom and truth that you spoke to power, whether it was the communist officials in Poland who trembled in your presence, the rich and comfortable in the U.S., the Duvaliers in Haiti, the Marcoses in the Phillipines or the dictatorships in the Americas-you were fearless. That courage broke down walls that seemed impenetrable, crushed oppression that felt unbreakable. You let the splendor of truth shine on the whole world and called everyone to the highest of ideals, never settling for comfort or complacency.
Thank you for your unswerving commitment to social justice. You went to the United Nations, the halls of power, the slums and barrios of the Third World, Mother Teresa's home for the dying, the White House, shacks and palaces to tell everyone that workers and the poor, children and the disabled, the elderly and the sick all had rights which could not be violated. In your vision of the world, there was enough food, medicine, justice and joy for all of God's children-every single one.
Thank you for your belief in young people. I once was one of them who heard your call to the priesthood over the radio one Sunday at 3 a.m. as I scrubbed greasy chicken fryers at my first restaurant job. In many ways, I owe my priesthood to you. The idea of World Youth Day was a stroke of genius and young people by the millions have flocked to your side, seeing in your radical Gospel call an authentic way to live our life abundantly. How many vocations like mine were fathered into being by you? Thank you for believing in us and for calling us to greatness.
Thank you for your joy, your smile, your incredible love for the church, your ecumenical gestures, the saints you have held up for us, your tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin, your love for language and poetry, your courage in the face of constant death threats, your love for nature and sports, your fidelity to the task at hand until the moment of death, your gracious example of how to suffer, age and surrender all into the merciful heart of Christ. The world will never see your likes again.
In many ways, I will find it difficult to go on without your booming voice of love, your courageous example of faith and the confidence that you gave all of us. But you have told us from the beginning of your pontificate to not be afraid but simply follow the risen Christ. With your example and prayers to show us the way, the blazing path of holiness lies before us. Thank you for being you, because you helped me to be me, the me that God wants me to be. As we pray for you, please pray for us before the glory of God's throne. I never talked to you here on earth, but if Jesus lets me into heaven, we'll see each other there. I have so much to say to you. I love you, Pope John Paul!
--Fr. Don Hying