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Pope ‘lived the dignity of every human’

by The Rev. Anthony Figueiredo
Special to The Setonian

Seton Hall University


Photo courtsey of Servizio Fotografico de “L’O.R.”: The Rev. Anthony Figueiredo kisses the pope’s cross as part of his six years of service to the pope.
Photo courtsey of Servizio Fotografico de “L’O.R.”: The Rev. Anthony Figueiredo kisses the pope’s cross as part of his six years of service to the pope.

For years, his once agile body was stooped. His slurred speech progressed to the point that he was left dumb in his final days.

His greatest suffering came from the fact that Parkinson’s disease left him unable to control his facial muscles to smile to the world he loved so much.

This is the man whom I worked for as an assistant at meetings of cardinals, bishops and theologians at the Vatican from 1996 to 2001. A man whom I revere today as Saint John Paul the Great, Doctor of the Truth.

His greatness came from the cross. John Paul II leaned on the cross, on the crucifix. His physical sufferings were the greatest pulpit from which he preached.

“We preach Christ, and Christ crucified,” boasts Saint Paul (I Cor 1:23).

Like St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Pope John Paul II’s courageous perseverance to Hazard Zet Forward, to go forward despite difficulties, was a personal example to me.

Like many others, so often I am tempted to shrink from public view when physical infirmities or other weaknesses will appear as an embarrassment or personal disgrace.

Pope John Paul II refused to go into hiding. His infirmities were badges of honor, opportunities for imitating the suffering Christ in order to proclaim the Good News that “nothing can separate us from the love of God” (Rom 8, 35).

Pope John Paul II’s sanctity comes because he allowed the resurrection of Christ to shine through his body’s suffering. To those who advised him, it would be better to step down as pope with paralyzed legs and trembling hands, he would answer with love, “Did Jesus ever step down from the cross?”

Pope John Paul II is a Doctor of Truth, for he witnessed to the unchanging truths of life with fidelity, constancy and relevance for all. Because Pope John Paul II loved everyone as they were, today the entire world is pouring out love for him.

Today, each one of us can stand proud to be a Catholic, a Christian, a priest, a religious, a seminarian, woman or man, black or white, rich or poor, truly anyone, for Pope John Paul II has preached and lived the dignity of every human person from the moment of conception to natural death.

And he invites young people in a special way: “Make your surrounding resound with joyful tidings, announcing that Christ loves every person and brings to fulfillment every trace of goodness, beauty and truth, which can be found in the heart of man ... Tell the world of the happiness you have found in meeting Jesus Christ, and your desire to know him better.”

G.K. Chesterton described St. Thomas More with these words, “He was above all things, historic: he represented at once a type, a turning point and an ultimate destiny. If there had not been that particular man at that particular moment, the whole of history would have been different.”

May God be praised for giving me and the entire world St. John Paul the Great, Doctor of the Truth!

The Rev. Anthony Figueiredo is a professor at St. Andrew’s Seminary and served as an assistant to the pope from 1996 to 2001.



Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved