Could it be that the absence of moral and noble role models in the modern world leads to young adults who feel they are “owed a good life without effort”? Some sociologist will have to take up that question.
But I think it’s safe to say that our children begin looking for role models, beyond the example of their parents, as they enter the “tween years.” And the glorified images they see in the media today are less than wholesome. There are images of arrested athletes who are quickly excused so they can play in the next game. Or movie stars who perform in heroic scenes but are drunken playboys off screen.
These may be models of sin and the need for redemption, but they don’t offer images of virtue and sacrifice.
So, it is with great joy that we should celebrate the news that Pope John Paul II will be beatified in May! He is a true modern hero.
My son, Peter, started a yearlong project last fall to study this pope for a special project of his own. This project has given our entire family an opportunity to learn more about Karol Wojtyla.
Pope John Paul had a beautiful way of communicating. He would take what someone else said, or a belief held by many, and find some kernel of truth in it. Then he would move to the big Truth and the Light that needed to be understood in that situation. It was a non-confrontational way to say, “Yes there is an Absolute Truth we can point to. And Truth is not open to compromise.”
Truth is a beautiful thing to discover! Pope John Paul expressed love AND strength. He was an athlete, a poet and a man of prayer. And for me, his willingness to sacrifice and give of himself, makes him a perfect role model for our youth. As the disease of Parkinsons began to ravage his body, he refused to hide. Instead, he allowed the world to see his suffering and his great effort to persevere on behalf of Truth and worldwide healing.
As Peter researched the life of the Pope, he came across a much lesser known hero.
A Catholic Who Volunteered to Enter Auschwitz
A contact in Poland shared the story with us of Witold Pilecki. He was a young member of the Polish Army in 1939. Pilecki went into hiding after the Nazis took over his country.
Pilecki came up with a plan to assist his homeland. He wanted to make a firsthand record of the atrocities happening at Auschwitz in order to get more support from the Allies. So he allowed himself to be arrested. He was tortured for two days and then sent to Auschwitz. While in the camp he organized the prisoners and distributed the few supplies available. When the Nazis learned that he was plotting a massive escape plan, Pilecki was forced to escape with only one other prisoner. After that he assisted in the uprising in Warsaw and disrupted Nazi supply lines.
In 1945 he was recognized as a hero of World War II, the “Volunteer for Auschwitz.” But shortly afterward, he was arrested by the new communist government and tortured. He was labeled an “enemy of the state—an imperialist spy” and was shot in the back of the head. His heroic story was buried by the government and his name could not be spoken for the next forty years. It wasn’t until Pope John Paul inspired the nonviolent overthrow of communism in Poland, that the Pilecki story was uncovered in 1989.
These are stories of two Catholic men who exemplify faith, courage and sacrifice.
Journalist Michal Tyrpa has hopes that Hollywood will make a movie about Pilecki. Meanwhile he has put together a website called "Let's Reminisce About Witold Pilecki" ("Przypomnijmy o Rotmistrzu") and has written a letter to Pope Benedict XVI asking that a case be opened to consider Pilecki for sainthood. For more information on that story visit www.witoldsreport.blogspot.com
Pope John Paul, pray for our families. Pray that our young people, who you cherished, will be inspired by stories of faith. Help them to rise above the temptations of the world. Help them to live with fortitude, Grace and virtue, as you did.