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Wojtyla’s Way of the Cross

02/04/2005: Vatican

Help me! This was the S.O.S. that John Paul II proclaimed on the 15th August 2004 at Lourdes while reading the homily. A whispered lament in Polish, his mother tongue, that helped us to understand not only his physical state but above all his morale. Never before had we seen him so exhausted. Bent from fatigue, from pain, from Parkinson’s disease, the old Pope was continuing his mission with clenched teeth, showing his declining physical state to the world without any shame.
Vittorio Messori reported the event in these words: “In a world of weights, of fitness, here is an old man with advanced Parkinson’s, who is continuing his ministry with punctual fidelity, exposing to the television cameras, the electronic means of communication, to the crowds, the decline of a trembling and gasping body.”
“For what reason?” some asked. “To demonstrate that the spirit can master the flesh? To turn illness into a means of evangelisation?”

It is a fact that he was the first Pope with a visible body. Pius XII and Paul VI were Popes who were quasi visible. We saw Wojtyla as a young athlete, strong, sun-tanned, vital, a dedicated skier and mountain climber. We saw him suffering in hospital and little by little growing older. He always used his body as an instrument even when this instrument was in decline. He was also the first Pope to become an icon for youth around the world, his face more used to appearing above a shirt than within a silver frame. He was a Pope remembered more by DVDs than by rosary beads, more in stadiums than in cathedrals.
To see him infirm and suffering was heart wrenching. But despite the voice that faltered in his throat, the breath that seemed to stop, the saliva that dribbled incessantly from the mouth, this indomitable Pontiff continued to fight until the end of his days.
It was indeed at Lourdes that he had said: “I have reached the goal of my pilgrimage.” This was his “consumatum est”. And that glass of water that his secretary gave him was very similar to the sponge that the Roman solider offered to Christ, model of all the crucified of this world.


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