As I write in the second story I post here, St. John Paul II was a larger-than-life presence in my personal, professional and spiritual life. Thus, today, the 13th anniversary of his death, I wish to remember him, to commemorate this man whom so many call John Paul the Great by looking back – a glance back at what I felt and saw in his final days, accompanied by the words of some of the many people who wrote me in that time. The letters I post here are the proverbial ‘drop in a bucket’ of what I actually received.
A photo I took at the canonization –
Today, Easter Monday, April 2, 2018 – specifically this evening at 9:37 – marks the 13th anniversary of the death of Saint John Paul II. Those thirteen years at times seem very short and, at other times, very long. After all, we are in the second papacy since John Paul’s death, following eight years of our beloved Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis, entering his sixth year.
When I woke this morning, I reflected back on that cool April day in 2005, remembering with a vividness beyond telling how I spent the last days, the last hours of the Pope’s life. In fact, it’s as if it had happened just hours ago. After all, there are days, moments, perhaps even seconds, in one’s life that are so unique, so strongly seared into our hearts, minds and souls, that they truly are unforgettable.
I mentioned some of this in a column I wrote recalling the vigil, then the death of John Paul and featuring two of the many emails I wrote at the time – one to a niece, the other to a priest friend, that expressed my emotions and what I was witnessing (SEE BELOW). I went back to the files I have from April 2005, most notably email exchanges with family and friends, and today offer a very, very small number of the tsunami of emails I received:
From my niece Susan:
Hi again, I was just thinking…how lucky Grandpa is! He gets to meet the Pope now! And now when it is our time to go home, we will be greeted by both great men… Love and hugs…Susan
From my friend Laurie in Rome:
Dear, dear Joan,
I know how close he is to your heart! I can only imagine the loss. But, it seems to me that it is a time to rejoice! Few have lived lives better than this man. He has poured himself out for the good of others, for the good of the Church, and he is about to win the crown of victory! What a wonderful gift the Lord has given us in JPII! I spent the day in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at St. Peter’s, which was packed full from noon on. It was very prayerful and calm and not at all sad. Santo Spirito (church) was also packed (went for Divine Mercy.). I stayed in the Square until after the Rosary, but had to come home because I wasn’t dressed for the cold. I noticed that as many people were entering the Square as were leaving it! Most of those arriving at that hour were young people. I saw groups of young people with flags, boxes of votive candles and other supplies to spend the night with their Holy Father. You can be assured that you are in my prayers! I’ve actually been carrying my cell phone: … I would be happy to help in any way … I could pick up lunch! But most of all, I will pray. Hang in there! The Holy Father needs you!
From a friend in the U.S.:
A bright light went out in the world tonight but that bright light’s glow will shine in our hearts forever.
From Msgr D:
Please accept my sympathy on the loss of your Bishop, the Bishop of Rome, and our Holy Father, a great and holy man. While we mourn his loss to us, we rejoice that he now with the Saints in the abode of the Holy Trinity. Let us pray for him and our Church. We pray that, like the Apostles, he guides us still.
From Fred and Debbie,
We love you and wish we were there to give you a big hug. We too are shedding tears for this Holy man who now is an intercessor for us in heaven.
I am assured God sits on your shoulder today for all your efforts for His Church. God bless you and our Church and the successor of Giovanni Paolo II!
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,
….and so he went to his God, uttering Amen. It is truly the end of an era and how I will miss him. His utter kindness and gentle manner, coupled with his strength both physical, in his early Papacy, and later in his illnesses and suffering…what an example of dying with dignity. I particularly loved his love of children, the sick, his quick humor, his loyalty to the country of his birth and, of course, his deep and abiding Faith. I think of you, who knew him well and I offer my deepest sympathy. I know you feel as I do that he is now where we are all striving to end but on a day-to-day basis, you will, I am sure, miss him deeply. I”ve been crying on and off all day, but the rational “me” knows he is now at peace. There is no doubt in my mind that that soul is in heaven, no doubt at all. the angels took him, the Blessed Mother met him and her Son received him……Amen.
APRIL 1, 2005: THE VIGIL SEEN AROUND THE WORLD
Following are some of my reflections on the 10th anniversary of John Paul’s death. Included are photos I took on April 1, 2005, the night that turned out to be the vigil of John Paul’s death:
Having worked for the Vatican for so many years during his pontificate, and having met John Paul on at least 15 occasions, including Mass in his private chapel on three occasions, he was a larger-than-life presence in my personal, professional and spiritual life.
Thus, there is one week in April 2005 that I will never forget, and perhaps even a few days before that during Holy Week when it did seem apparent that we would not have John Paul the Great with us for much longer.
Two days, two anniversaries, come starkly to the forefront of my memories each year. I will never, ever forget April 1, the vigil of John Paul’s death, and then the following day and night, the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, a feast he instituted, when he died at 9:37 pm.
The vigil, if you will, probably began March 30th when rumors of the Pope’s demise that very day began to circulate. His last appearance at the window of his study was heartbreaking: John Paul could not speak because of the tracheotomy he had had and his frustration was evident – as was the quickly declining state of health to all who had eyes to see.
Hours were long at work (I was at the Vatican Information Service, a office within the Holy See Press Office) because we were, even if not openly admitting it at first, on a death watch. Medical bulletins and other matters came to my desk for translation so that the press office could hand the world’s media bulletins in English as well as Italian. Spanish also became available but English was the main language (the first or second language) of most the world’s media.
There had been many such medical bulletins over the months, especially when John Paul was admitted several times to Gemelli hospital and most especially when he had the tracheotomy. On his last ride home from the hospital, the van he was in passed by my building and I did take a photo —not available now as it is in my external hard drive in Rome.
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