On the Christmas of the extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy indicted by Pope Francis, our memory flies back to the Great Jubilee of 2000 of John Paul II who was raised to the honors of the altar by Pope Bergoglio, April 27, 2014. It began exactly during the night of December 24, 1999. On this anniversary, we have interviewed Father Gianfranco Grieco, head-office of the Pontifical Council for the Family, friar of the Order of the Conventual Franciscans, Doctor in Theology, has long been the Vatican senior head of the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano and has followed Pope Wojtyla on all of his apostolic journeys. Among the numerous published books there is A Pilgrim. John Paul II between the Civilizations of the World (Saint Paul Editions, 2007).
Father Grieco, what are your recollections about Christmas spent with Pope John Paul II? “Certainly the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, which began precisely on Christmas night. A few hours away one from another were opened the Holy Doors of St Peter’s Cathedral, in Jerusalem, and Bethlehem. But I also recall the encounter with young people that preceded it in New York, Central Park, October 7 1995. Suddenly, the Pope started singing ‘You Came Down from the Stars’ in Polish, surprising everyone. In silence, despite the huge crowd of children, over half a million, only his voice could be heard. The world had to prepare for the Jubilee, because Christ who was born is the heart of the world and at the center of human history and of Christian joy. He invited, thus, all the united nations in single family to prepare to celebrate the joy of faith in the One who is and who was and who is to come, and not to be afraid. The jubilee year brings to light the grace of mercy and redemption by means of Christ, who is born, dies, and rises again. These are memories that remain alive and present and which mark also the future”.
What kind of Christmas is going to be this one, during the Holy Year of Mercy? “I wish everyone to spend a serene Christmas, full of joy, under the banner of solidarity, fraternity and of Divine Mercy, as Pope Francis asks. Certainly, in these times there is much fear, terror, anxiety, loneliness, and isolation. These are sentiments that contrast with the spirit of Christmas. To celebrate Christmas, from a spiritual point of view, without reducing it to a business event, we need a radical change in our lives, we need choices which are consistent with Christian faith”.
This year, numerous controversies were raised on the media due to the decision taken by some head teachers, sometimes even Catholic, to forbid Cribs or not to celebrate Holy Mass. What do you think about it? “One is tempted to say that we live not only in tiring times, but also in times of huge stupidity. Priests should think about the essence of our ministry, which is the Eucharist, the richness of the Church, of the souls, of Christian spirituality. The Eucharist is welcoming, love, blessing, Grace. It is the flesh of adult Jesus, the same way the Crib is a sign of the flesh of Child Jesus. Every time we argue about the opportunity to live and fully express our faith, we go off the rails of truth and loyalty towards the Word of God”.
What would you like to say to the families which will gather to greet Jesus’ coming? “Let family meetings not be a huge crowding of relatives and friends to escape from loneliness, but occasions to internalize and feel together the mystery of Christmas, which brings together mom, dad, sons, brothers, grandchildren, in the joy of being together and sharing everything, every material and spiritual good, reciprocity and love. Celebrating Christmas with one’s family means changing the course of life with urgency, towards mutual fraternity which must be free and effective, overcoming the culture of indifference and scrap, following what Pope Francis always invites us to do”.
What does “overcoming indifference” mean in concrete terms? “It means abandoning the terrible road of selfishness, individualism this society shows us and which is the poisonous fruit of a cultural and civil season of indifference towards society and politics, without moral values of reference, where everyone is closed in their own benefit and tiny interests. We do not use ‘us’ anymore, we do not use plurals. There is only a hypertrophic and excessive me. Overcoming indifference means thinking and feeling as in a family, a brotherhood in a sole body of God, feeling united as a territory, as a city, as a district. These thoughts do not belong to us anymore and we must find them again, otherwise we are going to grow lonelier, more and more tired and bored of life, more and more fearful”.
What is the bond, if there is one, between the Pontificates of John Paul II and Francis? “The missionary spirit, the Church going out. For Pope Wojtyla, it was the flag of the Petrine ministry. In 27 years, he made 104 International apostolic journeys, 200 in Italy alone, 830 pastoral visits to the Roman parishes on Sunday. Pope Bergoglio, during his Pontificate which is short at the moment, has continued this journey of the Church along the roads of the world. Without closed and armoured doors, but walking through the fields and deserts of human existence, close to those who are suffering and in need”.