no. 2 april - june 2005
A student of John of the Cross, his pontificate occasionally reflected Carmelite influences
Millions came to Rome for the death and funeral of Pope
John Paul II. It was reported that on his deathbed the
Pope said "I have gone to see you and now you come to be with me and I thank you." So many gathered in the piazzas or churches had stories of personal encounters with the Pope. Sometimes those encounters actually took place in crowds but for the individuals it was a very personal moment between them and the Pope.
Carmelites too have many stories of personal encounters to tell. In 26 years, Pope John Paul II visited many churches and almost daily hosted groups
at his residences. Among these were some Carmelites. He penned a library of documents some of which were directed to the Carmelites themselves.
As has been well documented, this pope had a deep devotion to Mary and particularly to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. He himself had a deep devotion to the Carmelite scapular (see accompanying story). He often used examples from the lives and writings of the Carmelite saints to make a point in his speeches and writings.
The Pope also showed he was aware of the Carmelites of today and our ministry to the Church worldwide. He reached into the Order to find bishops to serve in several dioceses around the world. Some 18 monasteries of enclosed nuns were erected during his pontificate.
In a letter to the Prior General, Joseph Chalmers, on the occasion of the 2001 General Chapter, Pope John Paul recalled that 2001 was the 750th anniversary of the giving of the scapular, the 7th centenary of the birth of the Carmelite bishop and saint Andrew Corsini, as well as the beginning of the Third Millennium which the Pope felt called to lead the Church into. He wrote about Elijah and Mary as the symbols of the Order and talked about "the journey" that the Order has embarked on.
He continued "You are called to re-read your rich spiritual inheritance in the light of today’s challenges so that the ‘joys, the hopes, the sadnesses and the anguish of humanity today, of the poor, and above all of those who suffer’ are ‘the joys and the hope, the sadnesses and the anguish of Christ’s disciples’ (Gaudium et Spes, n.1) and, in a special way, of every Carmelite."
One occasionally found the pope using quotes from a Carmelite to reinforce his teaching. He himself was very familiar with the life of the 16th century Carmelite mystic John of the Cross. The Carmelite was the subject of his doctoral thesis Doctrina de fide apud Sanctum Ioannem a Cruce.
Speaking to young pilgrims at the general audience on November 6, 1985, John Paul called Titus Brandsma "the example ... to show us that love is stronger than hate and is destined, even after some moments of failure, to triumph." This was a theme the pope would repeat time after time in his own life. For newly weds, the pope again used Brandsma to teach that even those so involved in the problems of daily life can attain spiritual heights. At the Sunday Angelus on the 50th anniversary John Paul referred to Brandsma’s martyrdom as "the highest expression of service to the Gospel and solidly rooted in the spirituality of Carmel.
The Pope appreciated what La Madonna "la Bruna" means to Naples. Venerated by the Neapolitans since the 13th century, the tradition says that the icon was brought to the city by the Carmelites who fled the Holy Land. During a visit to that Italian city in 1990, the pope said that La Bruna "so loved by all the Neapolitans ... kept their faith firm and intact."
Particularly around the time of the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in July, the Pope often spoke of the Carmelite scapular, usually in the context of its value for today’s Christian. In an audience on July 16, 1988, with a group of the Alpini, a branch of the Italian military, John Paul II quoted his predecessor Pius XII to single out the scapular from among the many expressions of devotion to Mary.
Some days later at the summer residence in Castelgandolfo, the Pope called the scapular "a particular grace" of Mary. In this way, the heart grows in communion and familiarity with the Blessed Virgin Mary. He spoke of this as "a new way of living for God and of continuing here on earth the love of Jesus the Son for his Mother Mary."
In a talk with the youth of the Carmelite parish of St. Mary in Transpontina in 1989, the pope said he owed much in his youth to the Carmelite scapular. Then he compared Mary’s clothing us in the scapular to a mother who sees that her children are properly clothed. "Our Lady of Mount Carmel dresses us in a spiritual sense. She dresses us with the grace of God and helps us always …"
The deep devotion of Pope John Paul II to Our Lady under her various titles was well documented during his 26 year pontificate. He began his pontificate by saying to the crowd gathered in St. Peter’s for his first Urbi et Orbi blessing that he accepted the election "in the spirit of obedience to Our Lord and with total trust in his Mother, the Most Holy Madonna." He attributed his survival of the attempted assassination on May 13, 1981 to Our Lady of Fatima whose feast was celebrated the day of the attempt.
His devotion to Mary as Our Lady of Mount Carmel was also manifest during his years as pope. In a general audience on July 13, 1988 the Pope challenged the young people to examine their own devotion to Mary and then suggested they think about devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
At the same audience, he told the sick that "Our Lady of Mount Carmel sheds light on the beauty of the mystery of suffering." He asked the newly weds in the piazza to "put your love under the protection of Our Lady of Mount Carmel" reminding them that "It is her prayer and intercession that will protect your love from danger and will cause your love to always be faithful and rich."
During the Angelus celebrated at Castelgandolfo on July 24, 1988, the Pope recalled that Carmelite mystics experienced God in their lives as "the way of perfection" and "ascending Mount Carmel" – always in the presence of Mary as Mother, Patroness, and Sister. He said that for those in Carmel and in every soul which is deeply Carmelite, a life of intense communion and closeness to the Virgin Mary grows.
At the Carmelite parish of Traspontina in January 1989, the Pope admitted to the young people who came to meet him that Our Lady of Mount Carmel had been of great help to him as a youngster. "I can not say exactly to what extent but I think she helped me greatly. She assisted me in finding the grace of my vocation."
During the Sunday Angelus on July 16, 2000, while on vacation in Aosta, the Pope spoke again of the Carmelites as the mountains around him made him think of Mount Carmel in Palestine. Recalling that Carmel is a symbol of total adhesion to the divine will and of our eternal salvation, he said "We are called to climb this spiritual mountain courageously and without pausing. Walking together with the Virgin, model of total fidelity to the Lord, we will not fear obstacles or difficulties. Sustained by her maternal intercession, like Elijah, we will be able to fulfill our vocation to be authentic "prophets" of the Gospel in our time.
He prayed that "the Blessed Virgin of Mount Carmel … help us to rise tirelessly toward the top of the mountain of sanctity, and to hold nothing more dear than Christ, who reveals the mystery of divine love and humanity’s true dignity to the world."
May his prayer become a reality in our lives.
1) Photo from Gabriel Bouys (Agence France-Presse) on September 19, 1999 at Maribor, Slovenia
2) The pope leaving St. Peter’s Basilica following the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 2004. (CITOC photo)
3) In one of his final appearances at his studio window, on January 30, 2005, peace doves, released only moments before, return to the papal apartment because of the cold Roman weather-- much to the amusement of the children with him and to the pope himself.