Louvaine-la-Nueve (Belgium) -- Conference of Msgr. Schooyans at Neussart Residence

Msgr. Michel Schooyans, professor emeritus at the University of Louvaine, gave a lecture on John Paul II on April 12, at the Neussart Student Residence. Only ten days had gone by since the death of the Pope, and although the speaker himself noted how difficult it was to capture in a few words a personality as rich as that of John Paul II, the value of a testimony such as his was evident to all. A member of the Pontifical Academy for the Social Sciences, Msgr. Schooyans was for many years a privileged witness of the concerns and decisions of the Holy Father.

The scope of the action of John Paul II was far reaching, including the defense of human rights (which many see linked to historic events such as the fall of the Berlin wall), the encouragement of ecumenism and interreligious dialogue, the reconsideration of the relationship between faith and reason, and the defense of the family and human life. Msgr. Schooyans, in his address, concentrated on one specific area: John Paul II as the Pope of freedom.

Starting with his own experience, he described the climate of work that John Paul II created around him, characterized by a sincere openness to the contribution of each person and an interchange of ideas and opinions. The Pope’s spirit of work, combining rigor with good humor, was possible only through an intense life of prayer. “The incredible rhythm of the Pope’s pace of work,” said Msgr. Schooyans in response to a question, “never led him to lose sight of God; all the tasks waiting to be accomplished never cut off his search for God.”

Much has been said about the relationship of John Paul II to the fall of the Berlin wall and of Communist totalitarianism. According to Msgr. Schooyans, however, more important than obtaining freedom in a particular territory have been his efforts to achieve interior freedom for all humanity. “His concern to free man from slavery is at the center of Pope John Paul II’s teaching (although perhaps less widely known), about life, the family, and human sexuality. What the Pope proclaims is that Jesus has come to give us freedom, if we want it, from all the slaveries that weigh upon what St. Paul called the ‘old man’.”

One of the questions raised by the audience focussed on the meaning of suffering for John Paul II. “We have to thank the Holy Father,” said Msgr. Schooyans, “for having carried the cross to the end. If he had renounced it, it would have been less evident that by his suffering and death he had led the Church to a new Resurrection, a new Pentecost.”

Romana, No. 40, January-June 2005, p. 152.