Day 1: Tomorrow is the big day! I’m planning to rise early and watch the canonization “live” at 4 AM on the Vatican’s live stream site: http://www.vatican.va/video/, or on Catholic TV.
The third “up close” encounter I shared with Pope John Paul II
was truly up close and personal: I was graced to finally “meet” him. But when I met him, I was in a place of great spiritual desolation.
In November of 1999, my father was hit by a car and died the next day without regaining consciousness. I’d been very close to my Dad, and I missed him terribly. Adding to my sorrow was that I felt I didn’t have the chance to say a real goodbye. And I carried this deep grief with me through the next year—I was simply overcome with sadness every day. About a month later, I received the news that a group of about 30 of us sisters would go on a pilgrimage to Italy, to visit the places where our congregation, the Daughters of St. Paul, were founded. I remember feeling so happy and so sad at the same time: happy to go, sad that I couldn’t share this joy with my father.
We actually went on our pilgrimage a year later. Those ten days were an incredibly blessed time for me, retracing the footsteps of our Founder, Blessed James Alberione, and our co-foundress, Mother Thecla Merlo. The pilgrimage included a visit to Rome (my first!) We went to the Mass that Pope John Paul II celebrated in St. Peter’s Square on the feast of the Epiphany, January 6th, where he signed the new encyclical, Novo Millennio Ineunte. It was a great joy to start the new millennium in prayer with him. Yet, we were also hoping for one more grace—that we could have an audience with him. At this point, the Pope’s health had started to decline and he had participated in many Jubilee celebrations in those days. We were told that he might be too tired to have any audiences.
So we were overjoyed to receive word a day later that we would have a brief audience with the Pope! I was incredibly excited to see him…and suddenly, nervous. Shouldn’t I say something to my spiritual father who had led me closer to Christ and had influenced my prayer, my thoughts, my mission, in so many ways? I really wanted to express what he meant to me…but I’d probably be tongue-tied and unable to speak. And what could I possibly say in a couple of seconds that could capture all I wanted to say to him?
As we waited to go in, we weren’t expressly forbidden to speak to him, but I knew I’d have just seconds with him. I still couldn’t decide what to do. Then we were called in. The group of us filed into the room where he was sitting, and waited in line. Our superior stood next to him, and as each sister walked up, she told the Pope her name and where she was stationed. The Pope didn’t speak much, although he did joke that so many of us were stationed in Boston. I was in the middle of the line-up, and I didn’t hear any of the sisters ahead of me say anything to him.
Then it was my turn! I couldn’t feel my legs when I took the few steps to his feet. I knelt down, kissed his ring and, as he handed me a rosary, I looked up into his eyes. All the grief that I’d been carrying over my Dad’s death suddenly melted as he gazed on me with such love. I felt as if God the Father were looking at me through his eyes, loving me. I knew at that moment that I could let go of my grief for my Dad—that Dad was still watching over me. And I felt so comforted by the love of my spiritual father, John Paul. Somehow I managed to grasp the rosary, and said the only words that made sense at that moment: “I love you.”
That moment where I felt the love of God the Father through John Paul has stayed with me ever since. It’s one of the reasons I rejoice so thoroughly in his canonization—not just that I kissed the hand of a saint—but that, through John Paul, God’s presence in the world is recognized. Our new saint lived Christ so completely that, even without words, with just one simple look, he could communicate God’s love in a way that would heal me and hold me for the rest of my life.
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I’d love to hear your stories of how St. John Paul II has touched your life! Please feel free to share in the comments below, or be part of the Twitter storm on Facebook or Twitter, using the hashtag: #2PopeSaints