Today the Catholic Church in East Tennessee commemorates Blessed Pope John Paul II, "Secondary Patron" of the Diocese of Knoxville. (The photo shows his tomb in St Peter's Basilica, now one of the most visited shrines in the vatican Basilica). So far as I know, the only special connection Blessed Pope John Paul had with the Diocese of Knoxville was his having been Pope when the Diocese was founded 24 years ago in 1988. His impact on the Universal Church, however, was enormous. There was, of course, his influential role in the transformation of the Eastern Bloc and the collapse of the Soviet Empire. There was his strong commitment to strengthening Catholic-Jewish relations, reflected in the Holy See's long overdue diplomatic recognition of Israel. Above all, there was the recovery of confidence at all levels of Church life. After a period in which it seemed as if the Church was losing its way and was giving up (at least in the West), the new Pope from the East recalled the Church to its essential mission and restored some of the confidence that seemed to have dissipated in the previous decade.
John Paul set the tone for this revival of confidence right at the beginning of his pontificate - in his homily at his Inaugural Mass, the text which is so fittingly read in today's Office of Readings: Do not be afraid. Open, I say wide the doors for Christ. to his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development. Do not be afraid.