WASHINGTON (April 2, 2005)— In a statement released today, Spokane Bishop William S. Skylstad, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that, "At the very center of his being, Pope John Paul II was a priest and pastor."
"As Pope John Paul enters the fullness of eternal life we celebrate, as people of faith, his truly remarkable life," Bishop Skylstad added.
In his statement, Bishop Skylstad emphasized Pope John Paul's contribution to implementing the Church's most recent ecumenical council, Vatican II, 1962-1965; his impact on world affairs, including the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe; and his ecumenical and interfaith endeavors, especially with regard to the Catholic Church's relationship with the Jewish people.
Bishop Skylstad also called attention to Pope John Paul's proclamation of "the importance of protecting human life from conception to natural death," his opposition to the death penalty, and his defense of the rights of workers and of the poor. He called John Paul II "a voice for the voiceless and the vulnerable" and "a friend to humanity"
Bishop Skylstad praised the pontiff as "a great teacher" who had written an "extraordinary series of encyclicals" and who, out of his concern that "all the people of the Church have a clear understanding of the faith," oversaw the development of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The statement also highlighted the care that Pope John Paul had for youth, manifested in the celebration of World Youth Days around the world, and for the elderly and infirm to whom he was been an inspiration "as his own physical limitations mounted."
As president of the USCCB, Bishop Skylstad took note of the gratitude of bishops "for the ministry which Pope John Paul II gave to his brothers in the episcopacy."
"May we who mourn the passing of our Holy Father follow the example of his faith and be led, as he was, to a deeper hope of eternal life with the Risen Christ," Bishop Skylstad concluded.
The full statement follows.
Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane
President of The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Pope John Paul Ii
Our Lord has given our beloved Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, the last summons that he will receive in this life, calling him to his final rest after 26 years of faithful service to Him and to the Church as universal pastor. As Pope John Paul enters the fullness of eternal life we celebrate, as people of faith, his truly remarkable life.
For more than a generation, Pope John Paul has been the spiritual father of Catholics around the globe, a powerful force in world affairs, a moral compass in turbulent times. He was a scholar, a writer, poet, linguist, and a statesman, to mention only a few of his talents. He was a voice for the voiceless and the vulnerable. He was a friend to humanity.
At the very center of his being, Pope John Paul II was a priest and pastor.
As a priest, Pope John Paul was wholly dedicated to serving Christ through his Church. From his earliest days as a parish priest ministering to the needs of farmers in rural Poland, to his participation in the Second Vatican Council, to his remarkable quarter-of- a-century and more as the Church's Universal Pastor, John Paul was always a servant of the servants of God.
As a pastor, Pope John Paul was drawn to minister directly to his flock, no matter how remote the location. Whether visiting the parishes of his own Diocese of Rome or the far-flung reaches of Oceania, the shepherd seemed to draw strength and energy from being among his flock. In the United States, we will long remember with fondness his five extended visits. On his many pastoral visits around the world, he was tireless in proclaiming the Church's commitment to peace, sustainable development, and human solidarity. Through his travels, John Paul truly became the first citizen of the world.
Among Pope John Paul's greatest legacies is his leadership in implementing the work of the Second Vatican Council. He took the Council as his guide throughout his pontificate and especially in developing the extraordinary vision for the future of the Church which he offered in his apostolic letter at the close of the great jubilee of the year 2000 and the beginning of the new millennium.
Pope John Paul II was also a great teacher as was demonstrated by his many writings, especially his extraordinary series of encyclicals. His concern that all the people of the Church have a clear understanding of the faith is enshrined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, whose development he oversaw and which now permanently enriches the faith life of the Church.
Pope John Paul's pontificate changed not only the Church but the world. The spirit of hope that his election aroused in his beloved homeland of Poland spread to all of Eastern Europe and helped bring to an end the years of communist oppression in those nations which hastened the end of the Soviet Union itself.
The value and dignity of the human person have been a central focus of Pope John Paul II's preaching, teaching, and ministry. He has ceaselessly proclaimed the importance of protecting human life from conception to natural death. He has opposed the death penalty as unnecessary in modern society. He has defended the rights of workers and of the poor.
Young and old alike have drawn inspiration from Pope John Paul. As a parish priest and young bishop, he understood the importance of the young as a source of vibrancy and renewal in the Church. He carried that understanding into his papacy by establishing and attending World Youth Day celebrations, which provoked a tremendous outpouring of enthusiasm among the young. The elderly and infirm have been inspired by his indefatigable perseverance as his own physical limitations mounted.
Pope John Paul's love for the Church did not diminish his respect for other religious traditions. With his outreach to the leaders of the world's religions, he underscored the role of religion in serving world peace. He worked to heal the divisions with the Orthodox and other Christian faiths. Throughout his life he has shown a special sensitivity to the Jewish people. His memorable visits to the synagogue in Rome and to the West Wall in Jerusalem and his normalizing diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the state of Israel are highlights of his pontificate. At the same time, he has sought greater understanding with the worlds of Islam and Buddhism.
As a bishop and as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I want to note how grateful we bishops are for the ministry which Pope John Paul II gave to his brothers in the episcopacy. By word and deed, he nourished us – as individuals or gathered together in universal synods, in the meetings of our conference, or in encounters with him during one of his pastoral visits. In him, we found a brother in Christ who, wholly dedicated to the office of bishop himself, knew how to strengthen his brothers.
Pope John Paul took as an informal motto of his papacy the words of scripture, "Be not afraid!" Through these twenty-six years, he taught us in word and deed the meaning of this phrase – that all who wholeheartedly open their lives to Christ and belong to Him have nothing to fear in this world or the next.
May we who mourn the passing of our Holy Father follow the example of his faith and be led, as he was, to a deeper hope of eternal life with the Risen Christ.
Video clips of Bishop Skylstad commenting on the life and papacy of Pope John Paul II are available on the Web at: http://www.atlanticvideo.com/clients/ccom/press/
April 2, 2005