Written by Jeff Lockert
(note: this article originally appeared in the Spring ’05 edition of CCO’s Grapevine magazine)
How could we, young people involved with Catholic Christian Outreach, demonstrate our gratitude and appreciation for the many gifts that Pope John Paul II has given to our movement? This question was at the heart of the commissioning evening held on
December 30th at CCO’s Rise up National Conference in Toronto (in 2004).
Since our founding in 1988, Pope John Paul II had been a tremendous witness in both word and deed to all those involved with CCO.
In fact, he is the only Pope most students have ever known. They are the “John Paul II” generation. The conference speakers and activities culminated in a moving presentation by Fr. Thomas Rosica C.S.B. which inspired students to become “agents of change” through small acts done with great love, humility, and boldness.
As a response to this challenge, students were invited to come forward and sign a letter addressed to Pope John Paul II which affirmed their commitment to live out the values he had been inviting them to for the past many years.
One by one by one, hundreds of university students came forward to sign their names. At the same time, they received a commissioning blessing from Archbishop Emeritus Adam Exner O.M.I. and Archbishop Luigi Ventura, the Apostolic Nuncio.
It was a powerful moment for everyone present.
Later, we asked Archbishop Ventura if he would personally give this letter of encouragement to the Holy Father. He agreed to send it along with his Christmas greetings to John Paul as soon as he returned to Ottawa.
You can imagine my surprise when one month later a package from the Nunciature arrived on my desk. As I opened it, I was overcome with emotion as I read the introductory letter from Archbishop Ventura. After sharing his appreciation for his personal experience at Rise Up, he wrote the following:
“I am pleased to inform you that your message was presented to the Pope by Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, his private secretary. The Holy Father has responded in turn, by signing in his own hand, a copy of the text and returning it to you, as an expression of recognition to the organizers of the initiative and all those who participated.I have been charged to convey to you, to the Board of Directors, and to all the participants of the Rise Up Conference 2004, the heartfelt gratitude of the Holy Father for this gesture of faith, while assuring you of constant remembrance in his prayers, he willingly imparts his Apostolic Blessing which he extends from his heart to the dear young people of Catholic Christian Outreach.”
I immediately turned over the letter and there was the copy with the Pope’s signature!
I thought to myself, in shock and amazement, “He actually took the time to read our letter and to respond by signing it!”
I promptly copied and scanned it, in order to email it to the CCO staff and Rise Up 2004 participants. I could not contain the excitement I felt that the Holy Father had received our encouragement, and had in turn, taken the opportunity to very personally respond to it. Especially in light of his death, this recent encouragement has a great significance for CCO.
Firstly, it demonstrates John Paul II’s enduring commitment to young people. It is recorded that even as he lay dying, he heard the voices of 50,000 young people singing in St. Peter’s Square on Friday evening. His secretary told John Paul II that thousands of young people were singing
and praying in the square. The Pope uttered these final words: “I sought you out and now you have come to me… I thank you.” As a movement, CCO has felt this incredible commitment from our leader.
Secondly it is a great source of encouragement for CCO to receive a personal endorsement from this very holy man. During the funeral, many people carried signs and chanted “Santo Subito” or “Sainthood now”. It is a great blessing to know that CCO has received John Paul II’s Blessing, both for our members and our ministry.
Thirdly, it affirms the responsibility that we have, as a movement, to continue our work and the legacy which John Paul II inspired. In December, following World Youth Day 2002, John Paul II sent a letter to CCO on the occasion of the Rise Up Conference in Edmonton. In that letter he wrote:
“I confidently renew my appeal to you: listen to the voice of Jesus! Let His light shine in your lives, continue steadfastly on the path of holiness, share with everyone ‘the good news of a great joy which will come to all the people’ (Lk 2:10).”
CCO must continue to be Jesus and to share Jesus with the countless university students searching for meaning in their lives. We have a great responsibility, by the power of God’s grace, to live up to John Paul II’s appeal to CCO. This is how CCO has and will continue to change the world.
As the Holy Father said at World Youth Day 2000, “If you are who should be, you will set the world ablaze!”