A People Reunited by the Fatherhood of the Pope

On May 3th and 4th, the Holy Father went to Madrid. His last visit to Spain was ten years ago. More than 700,000 young people met him at the Cuatro Vientos Air Base. “Be artisans of peace. Respond to blind violence and inhuman hatred with the fascinating power of love. Overcome enmity with the force of forgiveness.”

by José Luis Restán

John Paul II returned to Spain for the fifth time, ten years after his most recent visit. These ten years have not passed in vain, either for the Supreme Pontiff or for Spanish society or the Church that continues to go forward in our country, and which in the past two years has lived some of her most difficult moments since the beginning of the transition toward democracy at the end of the 1970s.
The Spanish Church is becoming increasingly aware of the importance of the task that falls to her, because the transmission of the faith inside the Christian community itself (families, schools, and parishes) is growing harder and harder, and a radical distancing is being felt in broad sectors of society, while the hostility of the major centers that radiate a significant cultural influence shows no signs of abating. It is a time of mission, as perhaps was the case many years ago, and too many things are putting a brake on the impulse that urges Christians to manifest with humble and honest clarity the newness of the Christian proposal.

Communication of the faith
In Spain, Communion and Liberation, too, is fully aware of this crucial moment for the Church. In the document drawn up to prepare us for the Pope’s visit, we stated, “Neither the lack of understanding of many nor the hostility of some can halt the communication of the faith, since it is the encounter with an exceptional presence that corresponds to man’s heart.” The faith and humanity of John Paul II, whose authoritativeness has grown during the tragic events of the war in Iraq, pushes us to “support his witness and his ministry,” taking upon ourselves personally the urgent need to “educate youth and adults to value man and his dignity in a real way, so that they may give an impulse to our capacity for justice and goodness.”
As soon as he arrived at the airport of Barajas, the Pope pointed out the fundamental contribution given by Christianity to the building of a society based on respect for the dignity of every person. In his meeting with 700,000 young people, John Paul II denounced the fact that the drama of contemporary culture lies in its lack of “interiority,” which makes it “like a body that has not yet found its soul.” A culture that lives by turning its back on man’s great needs and demands ends up not defending life and thus making everything that is human fall into degeneration. In the midst of a great outburst of jubilance and devotion, the Pope launched his most demanding proposal to the young people, to “be artisans of peace. Respond to blind violence and inhuman hatred with the fascinating power of love. Overcome enmity with the force of forgiveness.” But immediately afterward, he warned that this is possible only by living the experience of God’s love, in an intimate friendship with Christ, who is “the true answer to all the questions about man and his destiny.”

The challenge of education for the Spanish Church
Twenty years have passed since John Paul II’s first meeting with Spanish youth in Santiago Bernabeu Stadium. Neither a growing secularization nor the hostility of the culture around them has kept a new generation from filling a space ten times greater to meet an elderly Pope in whom the light of faith shines more brightly than ever. This is a first signal of the educational challenge facing the Spanish Church, because the hundreds of thousands of young people who acclaimed John Paul II need a hearth that will generate the ecclesial community, so that the knowledge and patience of those older than they may transform this enthusiasm into an itinerary of faith leading to an adult Christian personality.
During the Mass of canonization of Saints Pedro Poveda, José Maria Rubio, Genoveva Torres, Angela de la Cruz, and Maria Maravillas de Jesús, in Madrid’s Plaza de Colón, John Paul II affirmed the current validity of Christianity and its “modernity” that never fails, thus reiterating the central place of faith in history. More than a million people were able to understand, by looking at this intrepid witness of the Gospel, that Christianity is not an archaeological heritage to be admired, but a life to lay on the line. Holiness is precisely this life that is laid on the line and yields all kinds of fruits, transforming faith into a fact that is present and inescapable to all.

Without fears or complexes
Certainly, the Pope’s presence in Spain, which lasted a bare thirty hours, succeeded in bringing together the Christian people and making it visible. It made Christians contemplate their history with gratitude (a beautiful history, documented by the lives of its five new saints) and reminded them of their missionary vocation, today more urgent than ever. Thus, the first surprise for everybody, believers and non-believers, was the fact that John Paul II’s fatherhood made possible the event of a united and happy people, who appeared in public without fears or complexes.
The good Christian people thirsts for this simple, straightforward fatherhood embodied by John Paul II. It needs men and women to console it and admonish it in accordance with the heart of Christ: fathers of families, catechists, priests, teachers, bishops… Otherwise, this people, who lived a splendid morning in Plaza de Colón, will go back to being scattered; it will forget its history and abandon its task. All this is why we must become more conscious of the size of the challenge that is taking shape for the Spanish Church.

The challenge of mission
This challenge does not require an undue amount of frenetic activity or complicated projects, but first and foremost an openness to the action of the Spirit, who, defying the smiles of cynics, continues to blow in the Church. As the Pope said in Plaza de Colón, the works of the saints “which we admire and for which we thank God, are not due to their own efforts nor to human wisdom but to the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit who inspired in them an unshakeable adherence to the risen and crucified Christ and the decision to imitate Him.” So it behooves us to keep our eyes open so as to discover the work of the Spirit and to follow it, even if this means correcting our rigid schemes and established plans.
All of Spanish society lived this visit with conflicting emotions, between admiration for the Pope, acknowledgment of his moral leadership, and the diffidence that a public manifestation of faith always calls forth, even more when it takes on the dimensions of a real social event. In any case, this society that is showing so many signs of vitality is also exposed to the danger of a reduced actual freedom; therefore, it needs men of the stature of John Paul II. Perhaps this may be the propitious moment for dispelling prejudice, breaking down barriers, and creating a new relationship between the Church and the protagonists of Spanish social, political, and cultural life. Perhaps the attitude of the General Secretary of the PSOE (Spanish Workers Socialist Party), the openness shown by some of the media, and the general homage paid to the Pope of peace, offer the opportunity for initiating a new phase. This is why the Church needs a living fabric, capable of accepting the challenge of this society that has moved away from its Christian roots. In reality, this is the challenge that is always there, the challenge of mission.