On Sunday morning I couldn't avoid comparing that scene to the view across St Peter's Square and on down the Via della Conciliazione in the moments after Pope Benedict had declared John Paul II to be blessed. Again, the estimates put the number of people present at about 1 million, and the see of waving banners immediately after the rite of beatification was very moving. I think the image below was taken later, after the crowd had been asked, in the interests of a more prayerful participation in the liturgy, to cease waving banners and applauding.
Given the debate about the reasons for John Paul II's beatification, I was very interested to see what Pope Benedict said in his homily. He recognised Pope John Paul's Marian charism, referring explicitly to the inspiration of St Louis Marie de Montfort for his predecessor; he recognised Pope John Paul's experience and dedication to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which he saw as a great grace for the Church; he recognised his commitment to what we might now term the "new evangelisation" summarised in John Paul II's call "Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ"; he recognised John Paul II's commitment to the human person, observing that "man is the way of the Church, and Christ is the way of man"; he identified, in John Paul II's leading of the Church to the celebration of the Jubilee of the Year 2000 a restoration to Christianity of its identity as a source of hope; and, in his personal testimony, he witnessed to John Paul II's spritual depth and quality of insight, that supported his own work as Prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine.
It is possible to see themes that interleave through the more specific points made by Pope Benedict XVI: the valuing of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, perhaps particularly the implications of the insertion of the teaching on the Virgin Mary as part of the Constitution on the Church and its teaching about the dignity of the human person; Pope John Paul II's recognition of the value of the human person in a Christian anthropology placed between the contrary ideologies of Marxism and an ideology of progress characteristic of the non-Communist world; a Christocentric approach in which the person of Christ is placed at the centre of all things.
To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ, because Christ is Redemptor hominis, the Redeemer of man. This was the theme of his first encyclical, and the thread which runs though all the others.The one view leads one to reflect on what it means to belong to the nation of Great Britain. The other leads one to reflect on what it means to belong to the Catholic Church.