To mark the feast day of St John Paul, this is an extract taken from John Paul II: Journey Through Australia, the official publication of the Pope’s 1986 visit. The pope visited St Patrick's Cathedral on Friday 28 November, 1986, to pray and address a national gathering of clergy and seminarians.
For a moment John Paul II paused and appeared to be alone with his God, and with memories of a friend.
He stood at the grave of Cardinal James Knox, a former Archbishop of Melbourne who died in June, 1983. Watched by about 1500 priests and seminarians, the Pope once more exercised his remarkable ability to find a deep privacy, despite being in a public position.
The priests and seminarians had come to St Patrick's Cathedral to meet the Holy Father and listen to a homily on their mission.
They strained and applauded when the Pope entered the magnificent bluestone cathedral. Some stood on pews for better views, and to aim Instamatic cameras.
As the pontiff slowly walked along the centre aisle, he was spotlighted by sun rays tanned by the golden leadlight windows.
He walked beyond the tall pillars of the sanctuary, to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. It was there in the crypt that he paused in respect to Cardinal Knox and other former Archbishops.
Returning to the sanctuary, he addressed the clergy and seminarians. He reminded them that their commitment to celibacy was a positive expression of a special capacity to love. It was a gift from God, that was not given to everyone, and it was the priests’ gift of their whole self to Christ and the Church.
‘It is a gift that is made over and over again,’ he said. ‘It must be continually renewed.’
The Pope acknowledged that the numbers of people offering themselves for the priesthood had diminished.
‘The Church has an urgent need for priests,’ he said. ‘This is one of the most crucial problems facing Christian communities.’
The Pontiff warned that vocations were the future of the Church, and said those present had enriched the Church by responding to the call of Christ, to special service.
Decreasing numbers of committed people were also the subject of a Papal address before the meeting with priests.
The Pope addressed Catholic educators at the Melbourne Sports and Entertainment Centre.
Although men and women Religious for many years had met the challenge of the major organisational and teaching burdens for Catholic education, the numbers had decreased, he said.
An encouraging indicator, however, was the composition of the gathering observed the Pontiff. ‘This is a clear sign that the Australian laity are generously responding to the need for Catholic teachers.’ In only a few hours on this cool Melbourne morning, Pope John Paul had said much to fill the minds and compassion of Melbourne Christians. He had visited a school, met with teachers and addressed priests and seminarians. These all were people who could influence the Church and the social conscience – and the seeds of the Pontiff’s message had been sown on fertile ground.
Melbourne Catholic11 February 2021