Wednesday was a great day. It was also surprisingly restful for Suzanne and me. After our first morning of catechists and Mass (given and celebrated by Archbishop Kurtz (President of the USCCB) we made our way to the Tauron Arena on the other side of the city. The arena is sponsored by the Knights of Columbus all week and Wednesday was dedicated specifically to the American Church. We were blessed to be able to take in a panel discussion on religious freedom given by Archbishop Lori (Baltimore), the Archbishop of Baghdad, and George Weigel. There was one other panelist whose name I forget but she is a lobbyist in D.C. as well as in other countries on behalf of religious freedom. It is said that the US delegation at the Second Vatican Council was largely responsible for the document on religious freedom, we are still a leading force in that area for the Church and in the world; Poland, through the work of JPII, is right there with us.
After the panel we participated in the USCCB gathering of the American Pilgrims.
Finally, the highlight of the night was a concert given by Matt Maher and Audrey Assad along with Eucharistic Adoration led by Bishop Robert Barron! I've never seen Bishop Barron live before. He opened his message saying, "I had some remarks prepared but have decided to throw them away in light of the recent martyrdom of the French priest this week." Nobody can go off script quite like Bishop B
arron. He talked about the ugliness, strangeness, and power of the cross (some of his remarks can be heard in his Catholicism series). He tied that message into martyrdom (an easy thing to do of course). But then he brought John Paul II and communism into his message. He reminded us of the first time Pope John Paul returned to Poland after being elected to the Holy See. In a famous Mass, with a million plus worshippers gathered, he proclaimed a homily about the love of Jesus Christ and at times had to stop because the crowd was chanting, "We want God... We want God... etc...).
Bishop Barron remarked, "any astute observer of history could look at that moment in time and know that the horrible experiment of communism had failed and was defeated right there and then." The Soviet government didn't want John Paul to come, but had to allow for the visit. After a few compromises and heavy surveillance they allowed it. Bishop said, "Here was a government who had all the worldly power of the time, tanks, guns, authority in law, nuclear weapons, and yet the power of Jesus Christ was and continues to be infinitely more powerful." John Paul knew it. All he had to do was proclaim the Gospel and the name of Jesus Christ. All he had to do was talk about Jesus' love and the oppressive forms of government of the 20th century had no answer.
There is an image of John Paul that I have in my head. He is sitting in a chair with his head resting in one hand. He is quite young (maybe in his 50's or early 60's). He is squinting slightly because of the smirk he has on his face. In the arena with 18,000 young people (panother 2,000+ outside) kneeling during adoration, singing praise, and worshiping God I couldn't help but picture that image. In fact, as I walk the streets of Kraków this week I'm often reminded of that image. I know that he is in heaven gazing upon the Catholic youth of the world with that same smirk because he sees fully the power of God. 30 years ago we wouldn't be able to have this event in Poland. Now, there are 2 million plus about to descend on Kraków to remember this holy Saint and to unite ourselves more fully with Jesus Christ, God who became man, whom Saint John Paul II so desired for the world to know. He's in heaven smirking because he knows that Jesus Christ has won, not just here in Poland, but in all places. Nothing can compare to the power of God! No matter how horrible things seem, Jesus Christ always wins!
I can't wait to come home to share so much more with all of you! Especially all you students back there who I am blessed to work for day in and day out.