John Paul II and ‘America’

In the years preceding the Great Jubilee of 2000, John Paul II held a series of continental synods to help the Church in different locales reflect on its distinctive situation at the end of the second millennium, and to plan for a future of evangelical vigor in the third. These Special Assemblies were easily named in the case of the Synods for Africa, Asia, and Europe. But when it came to the Synod for the western hemisphere, John Paul threw a linguistic curveball that made an important point.

It was expected to be called the Synod for the Americas. But at John Paul II’s insistence, it became the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America. As in America, singular. Why? Several reasons.

The pope believed that the western hemisphere had experienced a single, great “first evangelization,” when the Europeans crossed the Atlantic and planted the Cross from Quebec to Tierra del Fuego. Moreover, he thought that this first evangelization had a particularly powerful symbol and patroness in Our Lady of Guadalupe, whom John Paul often cited as the example of a “perfect inculturation” of the Gospel. And then there was the future: John Paul hoped that, were the Church in the two halves of the Americas to think of itself as one, single “subject” of that first evangelization, it might be better prepared, spiritually and imaginatively, to undertake the new evangelization as a common enterprise.

All of this, and more, is beautifully captured in a new documentary from the Knights of Columbus—“John Paul II in America: Uniting a Continent.”

> Watch the trailer here

Those under 30, whose living memories of John Paul are of an old, enfeebled man, should watch this moving film to be reminded what an extraordinarily handsome, dynamic and compelling figure the Polish pope was in the first two decades of his pontificate, before the Parkinson’s began to erode his immense physical strength. Here is John Paul kissing and dandling babies, whooping it up with young people in Madison Square Garden, reaching out and embracing the halt, the lame, and the elderly—all of which helped make possible the new papal model that Pope Francis has lived to such effect.

And then there is John Paul II speaking truth to power: to visibly nervous representatives of communist governments at the United Nations in 1979; to Pinochet, Stroessner, the Argentinian junta, and other authoritarian abusers of human rights in Latin America; to the adolescent Sandinistas in Nicaragua when they tried to drown out his sermon in Managua with idiotic chants. The younger John Paul II was an exceptionally charismatic man. But unlike so many other leaders of his era, he never played the demagogue; the style was always in service to the substance he preached, which was Jesus Christ.

And then there is John Paul II, the mystic, celebrating Mass before crowds in the hundreds of thousands, even millions, yet withdrawing at moments inside himself, into that special place where he conducted his ongoing and intense dialogue with the Lord—only to re-emerge, magnetic as ever, to summon all of us to be the missionary disciples and saints we were baptized to be.

The World Youth Days John Paul celebrated in “America”—including his last one, in Toronto in 2002—get well-deserved attention in the film, for here was the pope demonstrating to the world (and to skeptical bishops) that young people want to be challenged to lead lives of heroic virtue, just as they want to know that the Church will be with them, offering reconciliation and mercy, when they fail to reach the mark—as we all do. The effects of those electric days are still being felt, decades later, among the liveliest parts of the Church in this hemisphere.

“John Paul II in America: Uniting a Continent” has already been shown on several local television stations. It would be well worth contacting your local programming director and asking him or her to consider airing this visually compelling, thought-provoking film, in preparation for Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. in September.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.