St. John Paul II CNS photo

A saint, a scholar and a song

  • June 18, 2014

The feast of Corpus Christi brings out some of the Church’s most treasured hymns — “Pange lingua,” “Adoro te devote,” “Panis angelicus.” My favourite eucharistic hymn is “Ave verum corpus.” Hymns, like popular songs, can bring back strong memories of the circumstances in which they were heard. The “Ave verum” brings back a beautiful memory for me, suitable to share with readers on Corpus Christi this year. The sacred song links together our new saint and an old scholar, both very influential in my life. 

It was July 26, 1995, the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne. A group of us were at Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence, invited to attend the morning Mass of the Holy Father. We were a group of students who had participated in a summer seminar organized by Michael Novak, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, George Weigel and Fr. Maciej Zieba, a Polish Dominican. Then entitled Centesimus Annus and the Free Society (now entitled Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society), the three-week seminar explored the vision of Catholic social teaching as articulated by Pope John Paul II on what a free and virtuous society should be. The seminar brought together students from North America, Poland and eastern Europe, the latter two cohorts rediscovering what it meant to live in a free society after the defeat of communism. 

The seminar, linked in its 1992 origins with the Italian philosopher and statesman Rocco Buttiglione, met for two years at an academy of philosophy in Lichtenstein. Then John Paul, who knew of the seminar and encouraged it, asked that it be transferred to Krakow, where it has been held annually ever since. I was in that first Cracovian group in 1994 and it was a decisive moment in my priestly vocation, encountering not just in our studies but on the very streets of Krakow the figure of John Paul II. 

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