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April 2, 2005

STATEMENT OF CARDINAL JUSTIN RIGALI
ARCHBISHOP OF PHILADELPHIA
REGARDING THE DEATH OF POPE JOHN PAUL II

It was with deep sadness that I received the news of Pope John Paul II's passing. It was also with gratitude to God for the gift of the Holy Father. He will surely be remembered as the greatest spiritual leader of our time. His entire life was an example of how to live out our faith, how to give witness to the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Father gave himself completely in service to Jesus and to the universal Church. In his final years, he suffered from many physical ailments but he never allowed those pains and problems to weigh down his spirit; his suffering was his final gift. He was an example to us all of the value of human life at every stage of existence.

As a staunch defender of the most vulnerable, he saw the conflict in America between a culture that celebrates life and a culture that seeks to declare entire groups of human beings, especially the unborn, to be outside the boundaries of legal protection. He appealed for an end to the death penalty, which he called cruel and unnecessary. He called on followers of Christ to be unconditionally pro-life and hoped "America would resist the culture of death and choose to stand steadfastly on the side of life." He said to America: "If you want peace, work for justice. If you want justice, defend life. If you want life, embrace the truth the truth revealed by God." The Holy Father told us "only a higher moral vision can motivate the choice for life." He said "the values underlying that vision will greatly depend on whether the nation continues to honor and revere the family as the vital foundation of society."

On the day he was elected Pope, I heard him tell the world "the Cardinals have called a new Bishop of Rome... summoned from a faraway country." This Pope may have come from a faraway place, but he grew close to the hearts of millions over the years in every part of the world. He expressed love and gratitude to the priests, deacons, religious, seminarians and laity. With deep affection, he greeted other fellow Christians and members of other religions. He called for a respect for all people, of every race, color and creed. He saw a need to "put an end to every form of racism." The Holy Father's strength of character and purpose gave him the moral authority to lead the world in efforts to find peace. This leadership led to the downfall of communism and a flowering of freedom throughout Europe.

The Pope spoke on the genuine meaning of freedom when he visited Philadelphia in 1979. He also spoke on the dignity of the Priesthood and the need to support and encourage priestly vocations. I accompanied the Holy Father on that trip, the very first time I visited Philadelphia. Among other events, the Pope celebrated Mass for more than one million people on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. What a wonderful welcome he received in this city of Brotherly Love! I also witnessed a never-to-be-forgotten moment in January of 1999 when Pope John Paul II made a Pastoral Visit to Saint Louis, the only such visit to a single diocese in the United States that the Holy Father made during his pontificate. To this day, people in both cities speak of how their own faith was confirmed and strengthened by his inspiring presence.

Pope John Paul II has been called home by God; a good and faithful servant who has earned his eternal reward through a life of love and service to Jesus Christ. May God's people find comfort and inspiration in the witness of the Pope's life and may Jesus bless and watch over his Church on earth as we mourn the loss of our Holy Father.


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