The Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday six years ago, Pope John Paul was called from this world as a hushed crowd prayed in Saint Peter’s Square below. In that same Square today, his successor and friend Pope Benedict XVI proclaims that John Paul is among the Blessed, that we may direct our prayers to him for help.
Six years ago I rushed back to Rome with Cardinal Baum to help him participate in the solemn rites and work that follows the death of the Pope. On April 6, 2005, from my rooms high above that Square, I sent an email to friends and family back home to report what was going on. In light of today’s beatification, I wanted to share some of that message with you:
The whole city is agitated, alert, excited, on the verge of tears or laughter, but also calm, and in wonder. The rooftop of every building within blocks of mine radiates the unnatural white of television lights, as chattering, calm faces try to fill time with stories that explain what is going on here and why it is important. Most of them do not really know, but at least they smell the genuine importance, and try to convey it. These people, these talking heads, are looking for insight too.
But people know. They have seen a real life. They have seen John Paul and have seen Christ in him. He showed them who they really are – the oppressed people of Poland and Eastern Europe, and of Cuba; the disillusioned and disinterested youth of the consumerist West, of France and Germany, of the United States; the people who know they are capable of love and of joy despite their poverty, in Mexico, in Africa, in the Phillipines. They saw the truth about themselves, and they saw it because of him.
And it changed the world.
[Earlier today] I prayed the Office of the Dead there [by the Pope’s bier], and enjoyed being so close to him. Besides marveling at what a privilege it is for me to find myself so close for such a long time when so many have to go to such lengths just to walk past for a few seconds, I also marveled at what a privilege and blessing it is to have known John Paul. What a priest! What a father! Up to his last breath he kept nothing for himself, nothing, but offered it all for the salvation of souls. And even now, even in his death, he is still drawing people to Christ and His Church. Lives are being changed.
He has shown us what one single human life can be, when lived in fidelity to its creator: rich and strong, true and irresistible. To see him there, just one body, vulnerable as any of us, and to realize what he did with what he was given, makes it difficult not to think about what an amazing thing Man is. As Saint Anselm said, “The glory of God is the living man!”
The people out there, waiting in line in the streets for twenty hours to see a dead man, cannot be categorized in any way, not in age, not in culture, not in education or credulity. They are just people. And they, like most people, want to DO something about what they have seen and known. So they come.
And today, thousands of miles from here, in Rome, they have come again, because of what they have seen, because of whom they have known. I cannot be there this time, but do I feel distant? Left out? Not at all. I too have seen, and known, and understood what Jesus was promising when he said, “I will not leave you orphans.” Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever.