Pope St. John Paul was a good shepherd Pope Francis says

The future Pope John Paul II is pictured during his time as archbishop of Krakow. Karol Wojtyla was installed as Krakow's archbishop in early 1964, was named a cardinal in 1967 by Pope Paul VI and was elected pope Oct. 16, 1978. He will be canonized April 27 with Blessed John XXIII. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)
The future Pope John Paul II is pictured during his time as archbishop of Krakow. Karol Wojtyla was installed as Krakow's archbishop in early 1964, was named a cardinal in 1967 by Pope Paul VI and was elected pope Oct. 16, 1978. He will be canonized April 27 with Blessed John XXIII. (CNS photo/Catholic Press Photo)

VATICAN (CNS): Pope Francis marked the 100th birthday of Pope St. John Paul II by celebrating morning Mass at his tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica on May 18, the first day after almost two months that Masses were open to the public throughout Italy as part of an easing of restrictions to control the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

The pope remarked that John Paul II was a man of deep prayer who loved being close to people and loved God’s justice and mercy.

“Let us pray to him today that he may give all of us—especially shepherds of the Church—but all of us, the grace of prayer, the grace of closeness and the grace of justice-mercy, mercy-justice,” the pope said 

The Mass was celebrated with just a few dozen people spread out in the pews—most wearing and abiding by social distancing rules.

In his homily, Pope Francis said that just as the Lord visited his people because he loved them, “today we can say that 100 years ago the Lord visited his people—he sent a man, he prepared him to be a bishop and to guide the Church” as a shepherd.

There were three things that made St. John Paul such a good shepherd: his intense dedication to prayer, his closeness to the people and his love for God’s merciful justice, Pope Francis said.

St. John Paul prayed a lot even with all he had to do as leader of the universal Church, he said.

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“He knew well that the first task of a bishop is to pray,” the pope said. This teaching wasn’t something that came out of the Second Vatican Council, this was from St. Peter, he added, and St. John Paul knew that and prayed.

St. John Paul was close to the people, going out, travelling across the world to find them and be close to them, Pope Francis said.

A priest who is not close to his people is not a shepherd, the pope said. “He is a hierarch, an administrator; maybe he is good, but he is not a shepherd.”

The third thing St. John Paul had was his love of justice—social justice, justice for the people, justice that could eliminate wars, a justice that was complete, which is why he was a man of mercy, the pope said, “because justice and mercy go together.”

Pope Francis said, “They cannot be separated, they are together: justice is justice, mercy is mercy, but one cannot be found without the other.” 

The Polish saint did so much to promote the devotion to Divine Mercy because he knew that God’s justice had “this face of mercy, this attitude of mercy,” Pope Francis said, adding, “This is a gift that he has left us: justice-mercy and just mercy.”

Before releasing a written decree later that day, Pope Francis also announced during the Mass that the October 5 liturgical memorial of St. Faustina Kowalska would no longer be optional is now an obligatory feast day for the whole Church. St. John Paul canonised St. Faustina and promoted her devotion to Divine Mercy.

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The Mass at Pope St. John Paul’s tomb was scheduled to be the last of Pope Francis’ early morning Masses to be livestreamed online. With churches opening in Italy and elsewhere, the pope encouraged people to attend Mass in their local parish communities while respecting health norms.

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