For many of my generation, Pope John Paul II is “my Pope.” It was not his rock star kind of status that touched me, but his personal engagement with young people–with me!
Blessed John Paul II is a wonderful model for all communicators today in many ways, but especially for how he personally engaged the people he lead. So many of us–millions of us–felt we had a personal relationship with John Paul II. I know I did, even though I only got to actually speak to him once in 2001. (That’s another story for another blog post: what would you have said to John Paul II if you had 10 seconds to speak to him?) He truly had the heart of a shepherd for every person he met. He didn’t just speak to millions, he touched and in some cases, transformed, hearts.
In the communications culture, there is a temptation for some of us to focus on numbers–how many people we reach with our message–how many “hits” on our websites, how many subscribe to our twitter feeds. But successful communicators are those who touch hearts, who make a real connection with the individuals they interact with. I’m not sure how to describe how he did this, even though I personally witnessed it numerous times. I look forward to reflecting on in here. At the moment, I believe the best way I can sum it up is that Blessed John Paul managed to “be” the face of Christ to the world. He was for me.
I’m going to make a timeline of my life with all the ways Pope John Paul’s life intersected or influenced mine. Someday maybe I’ll share it here. But today, I’ll just share the book-ends.
It all began for me when the Pope came for his first visit to Boston in 1979. I was twelve, and I had witnessed his election on TV and was very curious about this Pope who was so interesting to watch. But as his visit to Boston came closer, I became very angry because I wasn’t allowed to go see him. All of my older brothers and sisters who wanted to were able to join groups from the school or parish to go downtown to see him in person, but my mom told me I was “too young.” She herself couldn’t take me because I had a number of younger sisters and a brother who really were too young to go.
So, for the days of his visit in the U.S., I took over the television (an unheard of phenomenon in my house, since I’m in the middle of a large family). We had one of those old tape recorders with the top-loading lid and the built-in microphone. I put the tape recorder on a chair right next to the TV speaker and taped the Pope’s every word. I must have listened to his homily about the rich young man dozens of times through the next couple of years. What I remember best was not his accent but the passion and joy with which he proclaimed, invited, and encouraged us: “Follow Christ!”
Less than three years later, I entered the Daughters of St. Paul. Are the two events connected? Definitely, although it took me some time to realize it. And that’s just the beginning of how Pope John Paul II’s spiritual leadership has brought me closer to Christ.
The latest development is a couple weeks ago when I heard that the new Blessed’s feast day will be celebrated on my birthday, October 22nd.