To the Band of Brothers: January 9, 2024

Fr. Willie ‘87 | President
If you walk into my office, it’s more than likely that the first thing you see is a portrait of Pope St. John Paul II hanging on the wall. I don’t remember exactly where I got it, but I do remember the moment I laid eyes on it I wanted it to hang somewhere prominently in the office. As a matter of fact, so prominent that whenever I have a Zoom meeting, because of the angle, the background is that portrait.

So why the prominence? The reason is simple, John Paul II is one of the reasons I became a priest. As the pope of my youth and the beginning of my lack of youthfulness, he was a constant public presence not only in the world of our faith, but the world in general. John Paul II was a powerful force to be reckoned with. He sat tall on the papal cathedra for 26 years making him the second longest reigning pope in the history of the Church. 

One of the greatest things about him was his unique ability to balance so well several extraordinary qualities. He had a profound philosophical and theological mind, maintained strong moral expectations, had a healthy passion for tradition, and was a pastoral juggernaut. For a young Catholic growing up in the 80s, it’s this last trait that was most impressive.

As the 264th successor of St. Peter, Pope John Paul II made 146 pastoral visits within Italy and 104 foreign trips, more than all the previous popes combined. In total, he traveled more than 725,000 miles around the world. That’s more than three times the distance from Earth to the moon or the equivalent of going around the world 30 times! And to think, I sometimes complain about having to walk across the parking lot to school.

Every one of those trips around the globe were pastoral in nature. They were the fulfillment of the desire of a shepherd to be with his flock. In every one of those visits, he set records in gathering crowds. When he visited Manila, Philippines in 1995, it is estimated that over 5 million people gathered for the Mass shattering records for any visiting dignitary, any place and at any time, in the world.

But Pope St. John Paul II’s pastoral greatness was not only evident in his extensive travels. He also wrote 14 Encyclicals, 15 Apostolic Exhortations, and 45 Apostolic Letters. He authored five books, many of which he wrote while he was pope. In addition, his pastoral prowess is demonstrated by the fact he erected numerous dioceses, proclaimed the Year of Redemption, the Marian Year, the Year of the Eucharist, and the Great Jubilee Year. In addition, no other pope in the history of the Church met with as many people as he did. More than 17.6 million pilgrims attended his general audiences, visited with 38 government officials, and 738 audiences and meetings with Heads of State.

While John Paul II was popular, he was not a popularist. He never compromised morally, politically, or theologically for the sake of appeasing the masses. He knew the position of the Church on many issues were met with great resistance and were unpopular in the modern world, but he didn’t waver. He publicly reprimanded dictators like Augusto Pinochet of Chile and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua for their human rights violations, vocally championed the cause against communism that eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall (the Soviets even tried to assassinate him in 1981), extensively warned about the excesses of capitalism in the West (his encyclical “Laborem exercens” is dedicated in part to this), and was not shy about upholding the Church’s traditional teachings on sexual morality and doctrine that gave rise to his famous Theology of the Body. If such positions meant people would turn away from the Church, that she would be considered by many as ineffective, mean, or out of touch, then so be it. We cannot negotiate with the truth.

I liken it to the scene in the gospel of St. John in what is commonly referred to as the Bread of Life Discourse. In chapter 6, Jesus is in the synagogue in Capernaum and tells a large group of people, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (v.51). John goes on to tell us that the crowd began to quarrel, to question what Jesus meant by this. Jesus goes on to emphasize, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (v.53-54). 
What was the result? The gospel tells us most of his disciples simply walked away and never followed him again (v.66). Did Jesus go after them in order to reach a compromise so they wouldn’t be upset and leave him? No, because you don’t compromise with the truth. Did he try to explain to them that he was speaking metaphorically or symbolically and they were not to take him so literally? No, because you don’t compromise with the truth. While large numbers are nice, they cannot come at the expense of the truth. 

This is one of the characteristics of Pope John Paul II that was so impressive to me. It is one of the many reasons his portrait hangs on the wall of my office. It is one of the reasons why when he was canonized, the Church found it appropriate to give him the title of St. John Paul the Great. It is one of the great lessons we can learn from such an outstanding individual.

Auspice Maria
500 SW 127th Avenue, Miami, FL 33184
phone: 305.223.8600 | fax: 305.227.2565 | email:
Belen Jesuit Preparatory School was founded in 1854 in Havana, Cuba by Queen Isabel II of Spain.  The task of educating students was assigned to the priests and brothers of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose teaching tradition is synonymous with academic excellence and spiritual discipline.  In 1961, the new political regime of Cuba confiscated the School property and expelled the Jesuit faculty.  The School was re-established in Miami the same year, and over the next decade, continued to grow.  Today, Belen Jesuit sits on a 30-acre site in western Dade County, only minutes away from downtown Miami.