Today’s column is about memories.
I have posted this before, on another anniversary of St. John Paul’s death, but felt compelled to do so again today as I sat in silence for a while to ponder the events of 15 years ago today – the day the man people call John Paul the Great died – and all the years before that of his magnificent papacy and the honor I had to work at the Vatican during those years.
How vividly I remember the vigil of John Paul’s death, a story I’ve also told on these pages. Today I remember the day of his death – 9:37 pm on Saturday, April 2, 2005, the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday – through some of the emails I received from people in Rome and in the U.S. I am also look forward, looking to the future by publishing some of the memories I have from the years I worked for the Vatican during his papacy.
I am writing a book about John Paul II called “I Made Cookies For a Saint” in which I focus on his humor and humanity. It will have my memories, my stories, but also those of friends I’ve contacted – cardinals, bishops, priests and lay people – who had such up-close-and-personal-moments. For many reasons, the book has gotten a bit side-lined but I hope I am now back on track.
Over the years, from the first time we met until the last (Dec 20, 2004):
As I did once before, today I again ask each of you: Did you – or a family member or best friend or someone very close to you – ever have the chance, at some point in John Paul’s 26-year plus papacy, to have an encounter with him, to share a few minutes, to be in his presence for one shining moment?
Did you have or witness a special encounter, perhaps at a general audience? During a papal trip to your country? Did you have your own up close and personal encounter? One priest friend, for example, wrote of the loving and funny encounter between his Mom and the Pope! I’d like to hear your stories, your memories, especially if they highlight Pope St. John Paul’s humor and humanity.
We know his writings, his travels, his legacy. I want personal, touching stories, stories that will make readers smile, laugh out loud or simply sigh at a beautiful story of the Holy Father’s humanity.
If you believe you have such a story, write me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
APRIL 2, 2022: A DAY, A MAN, A LIFE TO REMEMBER
Today – specifically this evening at 9:37 – marks the 17th anniversary of the death of Saint John Paul II. Those 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 Benedict XVI, and now Pope Francis, elected in 2013.
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 previous column, recalling the vigil of the death of John Paul and featuring some of the many emails I wrote at the time that expressed my emotions and what I was witnessing. I’ve gone back to the files I have from April 2005, most notably email exchanges with family and friends after his death, and today offer a very, very small number of the tsunami of emails I received. Perhaps some of you will remember similar feelings!
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.