Be not Afraid! The Watchword of John Paul II

Be not Afraid! The  Watchword of John Paul II

I want to share with my readers one of the best statements by Pope John Paul II. His watchword was “Be not afraid,” a line taken from the gospel from today’s liturgy. In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II explained this phrase and its importance to him. Here is a large portion of the chapter. Enjoy.


Vittorio Messori: As you have recalled during our conversation, it certainly was no accident that your papacy began with a cry that had and still has profound echoes throughout the world: “Be not afraid!” Among the possible ways to understand this exhortation, doesn’t Your Holiness believe that one such understanding could be this: Many have a need to be reassured, to be told to “be not afraid” of Christ and of His Gospel, because they fear that if they return to the faith their lives will become frustrated by demands perceived as more burdensome than liberating?
Pope John Paul II answers:
When, on October 22, 1978, I said the words “Be not afraid!” in St. Peter’s Square, I could not fully know how far they would take me and the entire Church. Their meaning came more from the Holy Spirit, the Consoler promised by the Lord Jesus to His disciples, than from the man who spoke them. Nevertheless, with the passing of the years, I have recalled these words on many occasions.
The exhortation “Be not afraid!” should be interpreted as having a very broad meaning. In a certain sense it was an exhortation addressed to all people, an exhortation to conquer fear in the present world situation, as much in the East as in the West, as much in the North as in the South. Have no fear of that which you yourselves have created, have no fear of all that man has produced, and that every day is becoming more dangerous for him! Finally, have no fear of yourselves!

Why should we have no fear? Because man has been redeemed by God. When pronouncing these words in St. Peter’s Square, I already knew that my first encyclical and my entire papacy would be tied to the truth of the Redemption. In the Redemption we find the most profound basis for the words “Be not afraid!”: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (cf. Jn 3:16). This Son is always present in the history of humanity as Redeemer. The Redemption pervades all of human history, even before Christ, and prepares its eschatological future. It is the light that “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (cf. Jn 1:5). The power of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection is greater than any evil which man could or should fear.
At this point we need once again to return to Totus Tuus. In your earlier question you spoke of theMother of God and of the numerous private revelations that have taken place, especially in the last two centuries. I responded by explaining how devotion to Mary developed in my own personal life, beginning in my home town, then in the shrine of Kalwaria, and finally at Jasna Góra. Jasna Góra became part of the history of my homeland in the seventeenth century, as a sort of “Be not afraid!” spoken by Christ through the lips of His Mother. On October 22, 1978, when I inherited the Ministry of Peter in Rome, more than anything else, it was this experience and devotion to Mary in my native land which I carried with me.
“Be not afraid!” Christ said to the apostles (cf. Lk 24:36) and to the women (cf. Mt 28:10) after the Resurrection. According to the Gospels, these words were not addressed to Mary. Strong in her faith, she had no fear. Mary’s participation in the victory of Christ became clear to me above all from the experience of my people. Cardinal Stefan Wyszy ́nski told me that his predecessor, Cardinal August Hlond, had spoken these prophetic words as he was dying: “The victory, if it comes, will come through Mary.” During my pastoral ministry in Poland, I saw for myself how those words were coming true.
After my election as Pope, as I became more involved in the problems of the universal Church, I came to have a similar conviction: On this universal level, if victory comes it will be brought by Mary. Christ will conquer through her, because He wants the Church’s victories now and in the future to be ed to her. I held this conviction even though I did not yet know very much about Fátima. I could see, however, that there was a certain continuity among La Salette, Lourdes, and Fátima-and, in the distant past, our Polish Jasna Góra.
And thus we come to May 13, 1981, when I was wounded by gunshots fired in St. Peter’s Square. At first, I did not pay attention to the fact that the assassination attempt had occurred on the exact anniversary of the day Mary appeared to the three children at Fátima in Portugal and spoke to them the words that now, at the end of this century, seem to be close to their fulfillment.
With this event, didn’t Christ perhaps say, once again, “Be not afraid”? Didn’t he repeat this Easter exhortation to the Pope, to the Church, and, indirectly, to the entire human family?

At the end of the second millennium, we need, perhaps more than ever, the words of the Risen Christ: “Be not afraid!” Man who, even after the fall of Communism, has not stopped being afraid and who truly has many reasons for feeling this way, needs to hear these words. Nations need to hear them, especially those nations that have been reborn after the fall of the Communist empire, as well as those that witnessed this event from the outside. Peoples and nations of the entire world need to hear these words. Their conscience needs to grow in the certainty that Someone exists who holds in His hands the destiny of this passing world; Someone who holds the keys to death and the netherworld (cf. Rev 1:18); Someone who is the Alpha and the Omega of human history (cf. Rev 22:13)-be it the individual or collective history.
And this Someone is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16)-Love that became man, Love crucified and risen, Love unceasingly present among men. It is Eucharistic Love. It is the infinite source of communion. He alone can give the ultimate assurance when He says “Be not afraid!”


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