The Polish Pope brought his countrymen to understand that anti-Semitism is a sin, thereby greatly reducing prejudice against Jews in Poland.
John Paul II brought hope to breathe again among man.
These reflections were just some of the tributes paid to John Paul II at an interreligious meeting that concluded Tuesday in Auschwitz.
The three-day event, convoked by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow, and promoted by the Sant'Egidio Community, brought together personalities of all creeds. It was a continuation of the first interreligious and intercultural meeting called in 1986 in Assisi by John Paul II. This year's theme was "The Spirit of Assisi in Krakow" and it particularly focused on the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II.
Various of the interventions focused on what John Paul II contributed to building a civilization of love.
The chief rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, participated in a panel called "Auschwitz Cannot Be Forgotten." He affirmed, "There is anti-Semitism in Poland, but it is less that one might imagine because John Paul II's witness brought the understanding that anti-Semitism is a sin."
Jurgen Johannesdotter, Lutheran bishop of Plock, Germany, remembered John Paul II as "the good shepherd beyond the confines of the Catholic Church and of the whole Christian Church."
During his intervention in the round table "Memory and Prophecy: The Legacy of John Paul II," the bishop said that the Pope "gave witness that there is no peace without reconciliation and forgiveness," and that even when the Pope fell ill, "he lived and gave witness to the liberty of the Gospel."
For his part, Michel Camdessus, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund, commented that John Paul II "was a man inhabited by history," who was able "to meditate ancient or recent history in its truth, bringing it as close as possible, to extract a lesson and illumine a path of conversion toward the civilization of love."
Camdessus recalled two meetings he had with the Pontiff, in which they discussed the role of the International Monetary Fund and support of Eastern countries in their transition after 1989 to the market economy.
"He spoke a lot about the experience of his country," Camdessus recounted, "about the frustration of his countrymen because of the weakness or impotence of the large democracies in face of the rise of the great totalitarian systems and, above all, what he called the shameful partition of Yalta, which abandoned the Eastern countries to Soviet influence during 40 years."
The Polish Pope, Camdessus added, wanted the West and world institutions to avoid "the seductions of another materialism, which he saw in Western consumerism" and the pursuit of profit.
Man of God
Meanwhile, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, archbishop of Naples, recalled John Paul II as above all a "man of God" and "father of a humanity in search of meaning."
John Paul II, he said, was the beginning of a new era in which "hope has again breathed among men."
For Orthodox Metropolitan Seraphim of the Romanian Patriarchate, "John Paul II was a true prophet of peace and unity among men" and "advocate of the poor."
At the same time, "he felt profoundly wounded by the division of Christians," the patriarch recalled.
"I cannot [fail to mention] here the experience of the People of God in Romania, which during the papal Mass in the presence of Patriarch Teoctis, cried out spontaneously: 'Yes, Unity! Unity!' It was a prophetic cry, which the leaders of Churches must always have in their heart," he said.
Franco Sottocornola, director of the Shinmeizan Center for Interreligious Dialogue in Japan, recalled John Paul II's trip to his country in 1981. During a children's choir rendition of Polish songs, the Pope got up spontaneously and joined them.
"This scene stole the heart not only of the 7,000 young people present, but also of those who were watching on television and of the whole country," he commented.
Sottocornola went on to recount the Holy Father's trip to Hiroshima and his discourse there: "For the first time, the majority of Japanese had a perception of the 'catholicity' of the Church and of the worldwide role of the Bishop of Rome."
In Nagasaki, he continued, the Pope presided over the Eucharist and welcomed in the Church a group of "hidden Christians," ordaining new priests and celebrating other liturgical rites, entirely in Japanese.
Sottocornola classifed this as "an amazing event."
"Later I learned from well-informed individuals that the Holy Father had prepared for months, celebrating Mass in Japanese in his private chapel," the director explained. "To hear the Pope speak in their own language profoundly moved the Japanese.
"[John Paul II was] a master in the art of communicating [...] an example of dialogue."