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Follow me! In July 1958 the young priest Karol Wojtyla began a new stage in his journey with the Lord in the footsteps of the Lord. Karol had gone to the Masuri Lakes for his usual vacation, along with a group of young people who loved canoeing. But he brought with him a letter inviting him to call on the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Wyszynski. He could guess the purpose of the meeting: he was to be appointed as the auxiliary Bishop of Krakow.
Leaving the academic world, leaving this challenging engagement with young people, leaving the great intellectual endeavour of striving to understand and to interpret the mystery of that creature which is man and of communicating to today's world the Christian interpretation of our being – all this must have seemed to him like losing his very self, losing what had become the very human identity of this young priest.
Follow me – Karol Wojtyla accepted the appointment for he heard in the church's call the voice of Christ. And then he realized how true are the Lord's words: “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it” (Luke 17:53). Our pope – and we all know this – never wanted to make his own life secure, to keep it for himself, he wanted to give of himself unreservedly, to the very last moment, for Christ and thus also for us.
And thus he came to experience how everything which he had given over into the Lord's hands came back to him in a new way. His love of words, of poetry, of literature became an essential part of his pastoral mission and gave his new vitality, new urgency, new attractiveness to the preaching of the Gospel, even when it is a sign of contradiction.
Follow me! In October, 1978, Cardinal Wojtyla once again heard the voice of the Lord. Once more there took place that dialogue with Peter reported in the gospel of this mass: “Simon, son of John, do you love me? Feed my sheep!' To the Lord's question, ‘Karol, do you love me?' the archbishop of Krakow answered from the depths of his heart: “Lord, you know everything: you know that I love you.”
The love of Christ was the dominant force in the life of our beloved Holy Father. Anyone who ever saw him pray, who ever heard him preach, knows that. Thanks to his being profoundly rooted in Christ, he was able to bear a burden which transcends merely human abilities: that of being the shepherd of Christ's flock, his universal Church.
This is not the time to speak of the specific content of this rich pontificate. I would like only to read two passages of today's liturgy which reflect the central elements of his message. In the first reading, St. Peter says – and with St. Peter, the pope himself – “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ – he is Lord of all” (Acts of the Apostles 10:34-36). And in the second reading, St. Paul – and with St. Paul, our late pope – exhorts us, crying out: “My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1).
Follow me! Together with the command to feed his flock, Christ proclaimed to Peter that he would die a martyr's death. With those words, which conclude and sum up the dialogue on the love and on the mandate of the universal shepherd, the Lord recalls another dialogue, which took place during the Last Supper.
There Jesus had said: “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied: “Where I cam going, you cannot follow me now: but you will follow me afterward.” (John 13:33-36).