Remembering Pope John Paul II

As people around the world prepare to welcome Pope John Paul II at the newest of the list of beatified, I find myself recalling two experiences which shaped my understanding of this man-pope and how much he had touched the world.

About a year before he died, I was fortunate to be able to meet him during one of his Wednesday audiences. It was a fluke that allowed me to approach him in the Paul VI Audience Hall, take his hand, kiss his ring and receive a blessing from the man who, for the majority of my life, had lead our Church. What does one say in a moment like this? I said nothing except ‘Thank you, Holy Father.”

I  remember waiting to be introduced to the Pope, and as others went up, I noticed for the first time how truly tired this pilgrim pope had become. He was no longer the vibrant man of his early papacy, but truly, a man who had suffered much, and because of his illness in his last year or so, had very little energy to engage with those who came to meet him. And yet, beyond the look of age and wear and tear, there was a spark in his eyes, yes, even at the end of a two-hour audience. He greeted pilgrims and married couples, like he had done throughout his papacy. It is not for nothing that he was often referred to as the “People’s Pope”.

But the most touching moment for me of how dearly this man was loved came just a few days before his death. Our convent shared a dividing wall with a resident house of diocesan priests of CEI – Conferenza Episcopale Italiana (Italian Episcopal Conference) – in Rome, and often we Sisters would cross through a shared gate to go to the CEI chapel for morning Mass. One particular morning, just days before Pope John Paul II’s death, there in the small chapel was the residing Bishop and about fourteen priests concelebrating with him. In praying the Eucharistic Prayer, the Bishop had one of his brother priests pray the intercessory prayers. As I recall, the third eucaristic prayer was used that morning, with the words of intercession including:

“Lord, may this sacrifice, which has made our peace with you, advance the peace and salvation of all the world. Strengthen in faith and love your pilgrim Church on earth; your servant, Pope {then- John Paul the Second}, our Bishop {name of local bishop}, and all the bishops, with the clergy and the entire people your Son has gained for you.”

As the assisting priest came to the prayers for the Pope, his face changed, his voice cracked, his eyes filled with tears, and he hardly was able to conclude the prayer. You could see the tenderness of what Pope John Paul II meant to this priest. I wondered if that priest was thinking, ‘would it be the last time while praying the Eucharistic Prayer that I will intercede for Pope John Paul?’  The priest had probably spent his entire priesthood praying for the Pope; he most likely came to his adulthood under John Paul’s reign. And now, he was having to say goodbye to words that have been a part of his daily act in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

A few days later, on the eve of the feast of the Divine Mercy in 2005, John Paul the Second went home to the Father.  In the days and weeks that followed, pilgrims from all over the world, and of all different religions, poured into Rome to pay their last respects, for a Pope who traveled to them, and encouraged them, “Do not be afraid!” Each day, as I walked home from the Angelicum, I would pass pilgrims on the street, waiting in line across the Tiber, for their turn to pay last respects; to say their “thank you” to JPII.

So now, many pilgrims who said goodbye to this man-pope six years ago, return to Rome, to cheer the Pastor that had guided the Universal Church for twenty-six years, for his heroic virtue and inspiration to so many.

With them, I join them in spirt, “JPII, thank you. We love you.”

___

Tribute to Pope John Paul II in pictures.

The Miracle attributed to John Paul II

Booklet for the Beatification Mass, May 1st (in PDF)

At Vigil, young and old remember Pope John Paul II as Spiritual Model, via CNS

Cardinal Levada shares memories of JPII via CNA

Road to Sainthood

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3 thoughts on “Remembering Pope John Paul II

  1. If there was ever anybody i know that ever lived a private and public life that emulated the life and times of Our Lord Jesus Christ while on earth without faking it…..it is Pope John Paul II…….I don’t worship as a Catholic but i sure miss him in every ramification…..he has surely made my eyes open that one can really live a righteous life devoid of hypocrisy for the benefit of mankind and the upliftment of God. He lead by example.

    Papa…May Ur Gentle Soul continue To Abide In the Care Of Our Lord And Saviour Till We meet To Part No More…..AMEN!!!!!

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