Text of the homily read, in Italian, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, dean of the College of Cardinals, during the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II. Translation provided by the Vatican
“Follow me.” The Risen Lord says these words to Peter. They are his last words to this disciple, chosen to shepherd his flock. “Follow me” – this lapidary saying of Christ can be taken as the key to understanding the message which comes to us from the life of our late beloved Pope John Paul II. Today we bury his remains in the earth as a seed of immortality – our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude.
These are the sentiments that inspire us, Brothers and Sisters in Christ, present here in St. Peter's Square, in neighbouring streets and in various other locations within the city of Rome, where an immense crowd, silently praying, has gathered over the last few days. I greet all of you from my heart. In the name of the College of Cardinals, I also wish to express my respects to heads of state, heads of government and the delegations from various countries. I greet the authorities and official representatives of other churches and Christian communities, and likewise those of different religions. Next I greet the archbishops, bishops, priests, religious men and women and the faithful who have come here from every continent; especially the young, whom John Paul II liked to call the future and the hope of the church. My greeting is extended, moreover, to all those throughout the world who are united with us through radio and television in this solemn celebration of our beloved Holy Father's funeral.
Follow me – as a young student Karol Wojtyla was thrilled by literature, the theatre, and poetry. Working in a chemical plant, surrounded and threatened by the Nazi terror, he heard the voice of the Lord: Follow me! In this extraordinary setting he began to read books of philosophy and theology, and then entered the clandestine seminary established by Cardinal Sapieha.
After the war, he was able to complete his studies in the faculty of theology of the Jagiellonian University of Krakow. How often, in his letters to priests and in his autobiographical books has he spoken to us about his priesthood, to which he was ordained on Nov. 1, 1946.
In these texts, he interprets his priesthood with particular reference to three sayings of the Lord. First: “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16). The second saying is: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). And then: “As the father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love” (John 15:9).
In these three sayings we see the heart and soul of our Holy Father. He really went everywhere, untiringly, in order to bear fruit, fruit that lasts.
“Rise, Let us be on our Way!” is the title of his next-to-last book. “Rise, let us be on our way!” – with these words he roused us from a lethargic faith, from the sleep of the disciples of both yesterday and today. “Rise, let us be on our way!” he continues to say to us even today.
The Holy Father was a priest to the last, for he offered his life to God for his flock and for the entire human family, in a daily self-oblation for the service of the church, especially amid the sufferings of his final months. And this way he became one with Christ, the Good Shepherd who loves his sheep.
Finally, “abide in my love:” the Pope who tried to meet everyone, who had an ability to forgive and to open his heart to all, tells us once again today, with these words of the Lord, that by abiding in the love of Christ we learn, at the school of Christ, the art of true love.