In Memoriam Pope John Paul II

At the Requiem Mass for His Holiness Pope John Paul II on Thursday, April 14th, 2005, in the presence of members and representatives of other Christian Churches and denominations, Fr Neil Kelley delivered this address.


I guess that for many people here tonight, and certainly for me, the visit of the Holy Father to this country in 1982 had a deep and lasting impact. I had little experience of anything beyond the parochial setting of my own Church of England parish. Belonging to something worldwide was very attractive. I thank God that our liturgies are now so similar that when one attends mass abroad, even in a strange language, we tend to know what is happening.

Tonight we are not here to try and form some agreement across the denominational divide, or even in our own churches, on the role of the papacy! We are here simply because in common with so many Christians throughout the world, we are praying for Pope John Paul II; and we come with thanksgiving to God for his significant ministry and contribution to the well being of God’s people.

His papacy was significant enough for us here at S Faith’s to include him on our Centenary Banners made in 2000.

In 1976 my Aunt, who is also my godmother, had to ask permission of her Roman Catholic Parish Priest to come into an Anglican church building for my confirmation. It was lovely when in 1992 I was invited, quite naturally and without asking permission, to share in the liturgy of my cousins wedding in Portsmouth RC Cathedral though whether my presence on the altar there contributed to the break-up and divorce a year later I don’t know!

It is scandalous to think that only some 30 years ago, Roman Catholics and non-Roman Catholics were forbidden from saying the Our Father together. We might have a long way to go, and indeed the end of the journey may not be for us to determine, but thank God for the steps which have been taken. Not least the remarkable united witness of church leaders here on Merseyside – a commitment to doing things ‘better together’ which has quite literally had an influence on the ecumenical scene worldwide.

In one obituary of Lord Sheppard it is said “With typical determination Sheppard set about healing wounds in Liverpool and formed a profound relationship with Archbishop Warlock and the Methodist minister Dr John Newton; they were soon known as "the Liverpool Three".

How privileged we are to be so close to that work. How right it is tonight that members of those three churches are here, united in prayer and praise.

As I have written for our next parish magazine, reflecting on being in Rome last week, I felt very proud to be there, serving as I do in a church where one of its former servants, Robert Runcie, had spent time with the Pope talking together, praying together, and committing themselves to the unity of the Church which is the will of Christ. It is wonderful to have an Archbishop of Canterbury committed to the same cause in our own day. Wonderful to see the Archbishop of Canterbury and Archbishop of Westminster pray together for His Holiness.

Pope John Paul II says, in his encyclical, Ut unum sint: Jesus himself, at the hour of his Passion, prayed "that they may all be one" (Jn 17:21). This unity, which the Lord has bestowed on his Church and in which he wishes to embrace all people, is not something added on, but stands at the very heart of Christ's mission. Nor is it some secondary attribute of the community of his disciples. Rather, it belongs to the very essence of this community. God wills the Church, because he wills unity, and unity is an expression of the whole depth of his agape. Ut unum sint – may they be one. In all of Christ's disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd"

And whilst we may all wish for more public affirmation of the ministry of those who are not Roman Catholics, we see subtle signs and nuances which speak louder than official documents.

Call to mind the visit of Michael Ramsey to Rome – he came away with an Episcopal ring given to him, in a spontaneous gesture of love, by Paul VI.

At the Pope’s funeral last week the Archbishop of Canterbury wore an Episcopal ring given to Robert Runcie by Pope John Paul II. Think about it, you don’t entrust a papal ring to a layman!

Some of us want more – most of use most do most of the time, if truth be told, … but what we must not do is let the world set the agenda. The Pope was quite clear about that. St. Paul warned his readers that witnessing to the Gospel of Christ wouldn’t bring popularity or make people successful.

God doesn’t ask us to be popular, to create a “new way of being church” which is successful! The challenge posed to all Christians who seek to live the faith of Christ, once delivered to the saints, and passed on in apostolic tradition, the message to each and every one of us is that what God requires is for us to remain faithful.

At a time when many, even so-called Christian people, seek to control and tamper with the end of human life and to damage the beginning of it, Pope John Paul has urged all people to respect human life from its very beginning to its very end, faithful to the teaching of scripture that “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Suffering is a great mystery which even when put into a Christian context makes little sense. At least in the world’s eyes. The teaching of the New Testament is quite clear that it is only in sharing our sufferings with God that we come to share the glory of his risen life. Not a very popular message and one can see why it is so easily rejected. St Paul (1 Cor 1) says that the language of the cross, the word of the cross, is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom and the  power of God.
Pope John Paul taught the world a lesson of suffering patiently borne. No person can manage that without a relationship with God which is rock solid. Tu es Petrus. You are the rock. His faith indeed was rock solid. Fears and doubts we may well have, and have an abundance of them, but clinging on to the end is what it is all about.
How marvelous that this year, after five years of discussions, the joint Catholic-Anglican commission ARCIC is close to the release of a document on the role of the Virgin Mary in our two churches. "We have made significant progress," reported Father Donald Bolen, who specializes in Anglican affairs for the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity. ARCIC has announced that the document will be made public on May 1st, the beginning of the month dedicated to Our Lady.
The Pope’s love and devotion to Our Lady clearly influenced his life, and even his death. Not quite a paupers grave, but in the pomp and ceremony of the funeral, a simple coffin, not lifted high, but firmly on the ground, where God’s people are to be found. The humility of Mary, her willingness to seek the Father’s will were his constant inspiration.

Undoubtedly John Paul’s was a life and ministry rooted in the richness of the sacraments. Not just the Holy Communion but also the sacrament of reconciliation.

How many of us would breathe that word “Amen” as we were dying? Would we indeed be ready to meet our maker tonight? Have we unfinished business? Have we forgotten, indeed have we ever known, the importance of preparing for heaven? Do we have a vision we look forward to where, in the words of that famous prayer, “the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work is done?” That is, we pray, where the journey for each one of us will end.

Amen, said Pope John Paul as he commended his soul God. May our lives be so ordered that when we are called by God to enter His nearer presence, we may be able, with all integrity and honesty, to utter that word. “Amen.”

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