POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT ON CENTENNIAL OF ST. JOHN PAUL’S BIRTH

POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT ON CENTENNIAL OF ST. JOHN PAUL’S BIRTH

“John Paul II, a sign for us of hope and confidence”

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI sent a letter to Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, retired archbishop of Krakow, Poland and secretary for 40 years to Karol Wojtyla – Pope John Paul II – on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the birth of John Paul on May 18.

He looks at the late Pope’s life, papacy and death, with attention to two words attributed to John Paul II, “saint” and “great,” noting that, “the word ‘saint’ indicates God’s sphere and the word ‘great’ the human dimension.”

Titled “For the Centennial of the Birth of Saint Pope John Paul II on May 18, 2020,” the letter was dated May 4, 2020 from Vatican City and is signed Benedict XVI. It was made public in Poland today at 11 am.

Following is the entire English translation of that letter:

100 years ago, on May 18th, Pope John Paul II was born in the small Polish town of Wadowice.

After having been divided for over 100 years by three neighboring major powers of Prussia, Russia, and Austria, Poland regained Her independence at the end of the First World War. It was a historic event that gave birth to great hope; but it also demanded much hardship as the new State, in the process of Her reorganization, continued to feel the pressure of the two Powers of Germany and Russia. In this situation of oppression, but above all in this situation marked by hope, young Karol Wojtyła grew up. He lost his mother and his brother quite early and, in the end, his father as well, from whom he gained deep and warm piety. The young Karol was particularly drawn by literature and theater. After passing his final secondary school exam, he chose to study these subjects.

“In order to avoid the deportation, in the fall of 1940 he went to work in a quarry of the Solvay chemical plant.” (cf. Gift and Mystery). “In the fall of 1942, he made the final decision to enter the Seminary of Kraków, which Kraków’s Archbishop Sapieha had secretly established in his residence. As a factory worker, Karol already started studying theology in old textbooks; and so, on 1 November 1946, he could be ordained a priest.” (cf. Ibid.) Of course, Karol not only studied theology in books but also through his experience of the difficult situation that he and his Country found itself in. This is somewhat a characteristic of his whole life and work. He studied books but the questions that they posed became the reality that he profoundly experienced and lived. As a young Bishop – as an Auxiliary Bishop since 1958 and then Archbishop of Kraków from 1964 – the Second Vatican Council became the school of his entire life and work. The important questions that appeared, especially in connection with the so-called Schema 13 which would subsequently become the Constitution Gaudium et Spes, were questions that were also his own. The answers developed by the Council would pave the way for his mission as Bishop and, later, as Pope.

When Cardinal Wojtyła was elected Successor of St. Peter on 16 October 1978, the Church was in a dramatic situation. The deliberations of the Council had been presented to the public as a dispute over the Faith itself, which seemed to deprive the Council of its infallible and unwavering sureness. A Bavarian parish priest, for example, commented on the situation by saying, “In the end, we fell into the wrong faith.” This feeling that nothing was no longer certain, that everything was questioned, was kindled even more by the method of implementation of liturgical reform. In the end, it almost seemed that the liturgy could be created of itself. Paul VI brought the Council to an end with energy and determination, but after its conclusion, he faced ever more pressing problems that ultimately questioned the existence of the Church Herself. At that time, sociologists compared the Church’s situation to the situation of the Soviet Union under the rule of Gorbachev, during which the powerful structure of the Soviet State collapsed under the process of its reform.

Therefore, in essence, an almost impossible task was awaiting the new Pope. Yet, from the first moment on, John Paul II aroused new enthusiasm for Christ and his Church. His words from the sermon at the inauguration of his pontificate: “Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors for Christ!” This call and tone would characterize his entire pontificate and made him a liberating restorer of the Church. This was conditioned by the fact that the new Pope came from a country where the Council’s reception had been positive: one of a joyful renewal of everything rather than an attitude of doubt and uncertainty in all.

The Pope traveled the world, having made 104 pastoral voyages, proclaiming the Gospel wherever he went as a message of joy, explaining in this way the obligation to defend what is Good and to be for Christ.

In his 14 Encyclicals, he comprehensively presented the faith of the Church and its teaching in a human way. By doing this, he inevitably sparked contradiction in Church of the West, clouded by doubt and uncertainty.

It seems important today to define the true centre, from the perspective of which we can read the message contained in the various texts. We could have noticed it at the hour of his death. Pope John Paul II died in the first moments of the newly established Feast of Divine Mercy. Let me first add a brief personal remark that seems an important aspect of the Pope’s nature and work. From the very beginning, John Paul II was deeply touched by the message of Faustina Kowalska, a nun from Kraków, who emphasized Divine Mercy as an essential center of the Christian faith. She had hoped for the establishment of such a feast day. After consultation, the Pope chose the Second Sunday of Easter. However, before the final decision was made, he asked the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to express its view on the appropriateness of this date. We responded negatively because such an ancient, traditional and meaningful date like the Sunday “in Albis” concluding the Octave of Easter should not be burdened with modern ideas. It was certainly not easy for the Holy Father to accept our reply. Yet, he did so with great humility and accepted our negative response a second time. Finally, he formulated a proposal that left the Second Sunday of Easter in its historical form but included Divine Mercy in its original message. There have often been similar cases in which I was impressed by the humility of this great Pope, who abandoned ideas he cherished because he could not find the approval of the official organs that must be asked according established norms.

When John Paul II took his last breaths on this world, the prayer of the First Vespers of the Feast of Divine Mercy had just ended. This illuminated the hour of his death: the light of God’s mercy stands as a comforting message over his death. In his last book Memory and Identity, which was published on the eve of his death, the Pope once again summarized the message of Divine Mercy. He pointed out that Sister Faustina died before the horrors of the Second World War but already gave the Lord’s answer to all this unbearable strife. It was as if Christ wanted to say through Faustina: “Evil will not get the final victory. The mystery of Easter affirms that good will ultimately be victorious, that life will triumph over death, and that love will overcome hatred”.

Throughout his life, the Pope sought to subjectively appropriate the objective center of Christian faith, the doctrine of salvation, and to help others to make it theirs. Through the resurrected Christ, God’s mercy is intended for every individual. Although this center of Christian existence is given to us only in faith, it is also philosophically significant, because if God’s mercy were not a fact, then we would have to find our way in a world where the ultimate power of good against evil is not recognizable. It is finally, beyond this objective historical significance, indispensable for everyone to know that in the end God’s mercy is stronger than our weakness. Moreover, at this point, the inner unity of the message of John Paul II and the basic intentions of Pope Francis can also be found: John Paul II is not the moral rigorist as some have partially portrayed him. With the centrality of divine mercy, he gives us the opportunity to accept moral requirement for man, even if we can never fully meet it. Besides, our moral endeavors are made in the light of divine mercy, which proves to be a force that heals for our weakness.

While Pope John Paul II was dying, St. Peter’s Square was filled with people, especially many young people, who wanted to meet their Pope one last time. I cannot forget the moment when Archbishop Sandri announced the message of the Pope’s departure. Above all, the moment when the great bell of St. Peter’s took up this message remains unforgettable. On the day of his funeral, there were many posters with the words “Santo subito!” It was a cry that rose from the encounter with John Paul II from all sides. Not from the square but also in different intellectual circles the idea of giving John Paul II the title “the Great” was discussed.

The word “saint” indicates God’s sphere and the word “great” the human dimension. According to the Church’s standards, sanctity can be recognized by two criteria: heroic virtues and a miracle. These two standards are closely related. Since the word “heroic virtue” does not mean a kind of Olympic achievement but rather that something becomes visible in and through a person that is not his own but God’s work which becomes recognizable in and through him. This is not a kind of moral competition, but the result of renouncing one’s own greatness. The point is that a person lets God work on him, and so God’s work and power become visible through him.

The same applies to the criterion of the miracle: here too, what counts is not that something sensational happening but the visible revelation of God’s healing goodness, which transcends all merely human possibilities. A saint is the man who is open to God and permeated by God. A holy man is the one who leads away from himself and lets us see and recognize God. Checking this juridically, as far as possible, is the purpose of the two processes for beatification and canonization. In the case of John Paul II, both were carried out strictly according to the applicable rules. So, now he stands before us as the Father, who makes God’s mercy and kindness visible to us.

It is more difficult to correctly define the term “great.” In the course of the almost 2,000-year long history of the papacy, the title “the Great” has been maintained only for two popes: Leo I (440 – 461) and Gregory I (590 – 604). In the case of both, the word “great” has a political connotation, but precisely because something of the mystery of God himself becomes visible through their political success. Through dialog, Leo the Great was able to convince Attila, the Prince of Huns, to spare Rome – the city of the Apostolic Princes Peter and Paul. Without weapons, without military or political power, through the power of his conviction for his faith, he was able to convince the feared tyrant to spare Rome. In the struggle between the spirit and power, the spirit proved stronger.

Gregory I’s success was not as spectacular, but he was repeatedly able to protect Rome against the Lombard – here too, by opposing the spirit against power and winning the victory of the spirit.

If we compare both stories with that of John Paul II, the similarity is unmistakable. John Paul II also had no military or political power. During the discussion about the future shape of Europe and Germany in February 1945, it was said that the Pope’s reaction should also be taken into account. Stalin then asked: “How many divisions does the Pope have?” Well, he had no available division. However, the power of faith turned out to be a force that finally unhinged the Soviet power system in 1989 and made a new beginning possible. Undisputedly, the Pope’s faith was an essential element in the collapse of the powers. And so, the greatness that appeared in Leo I and Gregory I is certainly also visible here.

Let us leave open the question of whether the epithet “the great” will prevail or not. It is true that God’s power and goodness have become visible to all of us in John Paul II. In a time when the Church is again suffering from the oppression of evil, he is for us a sign of hope and confidence.

Dear Saint John Paul II, Pray for us!

Benedict XVI

 

 

MAY 13, 1981: THE SHOT HEARD ‘ROUND THE WORLD’

MAY 13, 1981: THE SHOT HEARD ‘ROUND THE WORLD’

Where Were You 39 Years Ago – May 13, 1981?

Well, let me tell you about that day, one I’ll never forget, a day the world, the Church will never forget. A day the world stood still.

A story I first wrote several years after the attempt on John Paul’s life.

I was on my way to St. Peter’s Square for the 5:00 pm general audience that Pope John Paul had just begun to preside. The weather had been very warm and the Vatican had moved the audiences from the hot late morning sun to a later time in the afternoon.

As I walked towards the square after having a coffee in a small bar nearby, I saw a group of Italian students, perhaps 30 of them, perhaps 10-years old, walking away from St. Peter’s Square with their teacher. They were not running so there was no reason to worry and I didn’t give them a second thought, except to wonder why they were leaving the papal audience, instead of attending it.

And then I heard a scream! A voice shouted in Italian, “They’ve shot the pope!”

My mind could not process those words together. My feet seemed nailed to the sidewalk, I was momentarily paralyzed – it may have been five seconds or less but I couldn’t move! When I finally absorbed the shock, I ran towards St. Peter’s Square where people were not quietly listening to what should have been a papal catechesis, rather they were going in all directions, asking each other what they heard, asking each other what they had seen. There were a lot of tears, so many people holding their heads, shaking their heads in disbelief, but always the tears.

My mind still could not conceive the words “They’ve shot the pope.” It was unbelievable, unimaginable. Who in their right mind would want to shoot a man of such magnificent spirituality, such great teaching, such wisdom and humanity and humor, a man whose entire life was a life of prayer, of service, of dedication, of singular love for his Church love for his people, for all people?

Where was that life now – 5:30 in the afternoon of Wednesday, May 13? Had it ended? Was it hanging in the balance? Was it possible to go from joy to sorrow in only a nanosecond?

As I was running towards the square to see what had happened, one of the more amazing things happened.

I entered St. Peter’s Square and asked in as many languages as I knew what people had heard and what they had seen. At a certain point, a very tall American priest, with an obviously worried expression on his face, came up and asked me if I knew the whereabouts of the two women in his pilgrimage group who had been shot along with Pope John Paul!

Naturally, I was absolutely floored and asked him their names and if he thought they had been taken to a hospital. To this day, 39 years later, I remember those names: Ann Odre was a senior citizen in Father’s group and Rose Hall was the wife of a military man who had just come from – or was perhaps going to – Germany to see him. I made inquiries and found that both women had been taken to the nearby Santo Spirito hospital where, a day or two later, I visited Ann Odre.

Obviously the confusion in the Square surpassed understanding. And, in a way, the relative silence surpassed understanding. There was probably more silence than there should have been with a crowd of that size but people were praying, people were not talking, so many were struck dumb by the idea someone would want to shoot a pope.

John Paul of course became the focus of everyone’s attention: the faithful in the square, the people of Rome whose bishop had just been shot and, thanks to the media, people around the world. As a member of the media, I ran back to the press office to tell my colleagues what I had learned. I worked for a weekly newspaper in Rome at the time – the International Daily American – and also wrote a weekly column for the National Catholic Register as the Rome bureau chief. Working for a weekly it was tough to have a scoop but what I had discovered in the square, especially the information about the two American women, had to be shared with all of my fellow journalists.

For hours we were on the phone. We all called our contacts to ask who might have been in the square, what they saw, what they heard. Bit by bit, information was pieced together. We learned that a man with a gun, had raised it, pointed it at the pope and fired shots and was immediately wrestled to the ground by a nun. The man, we later discovered, was a Turkish citizen named Ali Agca who was immediately taken into custody.

No one even thought of leaving the press office: Throughout the evening, and into the first hours of the new day, we all had our eyes on the television sets in the press office. There was nothing at that time like today’s social media – no Internet, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and videos made with cell phones (no cell phones at that time, either!), iPads, etc., so we relied on our land line phones and Italian television.

It was an amazing evening. The hours dragged on and on, restaurants closed and yet no one had dinner. At best, some colleagues went to a few coffee bars before they closed to get a sandwich and some coffee for what we knew would be a long night. We all knew that no matter what we were writing, the final story line could not be written until we heard from Gemelli hospital if the pope had survived his surgery or if indeed a final line have been written in the life of Pope John Paul.

Given God’s great love – and surely his Mother Mary’s love as well – for this special man, given Pope John Paul’s belief in Divine Mercy and his unshakeable belief in Divine Providence, we all received the gift of a pope who survived and a long papacy, following this potentially fatal day. (vatican photos)

I got to bed in the wee small hours of the morning after dictating my story on the phone to the Register, based at the time in Los Angeles. I was exhausted when I went to bed and only slept a few hours because all of us were anxious to return to work the next morning and find out what had happened to the pope overnight.

You all know the rest of the story: Pope John Paul survived, had a long recovery period and eventually had other surgeries: There would be another 24 years of a fruitful pontificate by a travelling pope, a pope who wrote documents and poetry, a pope who influenced the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

As I write these words 39 years later, that Pope is now Saint John Paul II.

 

POPE TO STREET PAPERS: THANK YOU FOR SHARING STORIES OF HOPE – COVID-19: ITALIAN BISHOPS PROTEST CONTINUED BAN ON PUBLIC MASSES

Six years ago today, the world welcomed two new saints, Blessed Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. More than half a million people were in Rome for the canonization Mass, several hundred thousand of whom watched on large screens placed throughout Rome.

Two living Popes were present at the canonization of their two predecessors. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI was present as Pope Francis presided at the canonization Mass in the presence of 90 official delegations, 24 heads of State, 150 cardinals and 1,000 bishops.

For me it was an extraordinary personal and professional experience, for a number of reasons. I resumed “Rome Dispatch,” a half-hour live television program that aired at 4 pm in Rome, and that was a great joy as I could talk about the 5 Popes in whose presence I have been and the 4 Popes whom I met and have spoken to – one of whom was being canonized, Blessed John Paul II. I attended a papal audience with John XXII but never met him personally, whereas I did meet Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.

Here’s a link to the Rome Dispatch edition I dedicated to the first Pope I ever saw, Angelo Roncalli, John XXIII. I bring you to his birthplace via a video I made with my iPad in Sotto il Monte as well as a video of my meeting with the then brand new Cardinal Loris Capovilla who for 10 years had been the private secretary to Roncalli, as archbishop of Venice and then as Pope: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsB7YMfBxGs

I thank the Lord each and every day for the privileges and blessings He has bestowed on me!

POPE TO STREET PAPERS: THANK YOU FOR SHARING STORIES OF HOPE

Pope Francis writes a letter to street newspapers to expresses his solidarity with the volunteers and homeless people put to the test by the Covid-19 pandemic.

By Devin Watkins

In a letter sent on Monday to over 100 street papers around the world, Pope Francis acknowledged that the coronavirus outbreak has severely tested the people who rely on them for an income.

“I would like to acknowledge the world of street papers and especially the vendors – who for the most part are homeless, terribly marginalized, or unemployed: thousands of people across the world who live and have a job thanks to selling these extraordinary newspapers,” Pope Francis writes.

Giving voice to the marginalized
Street papers are publications produced to support those who write, edit and distribute them. These newspapers often seek to give the marginalized a voice in their community.

More than 100 street papers are published in 35 countries, in 25 different languages. They provide 20,500 people with employment and an income.

Pope Francis expressed appreciation for this mission, and warmly recalled a Caritas Italy project called Scarp de’ tennis (tennis shoes). The publication provides an income and “access to fundamental citizens’ rights” to over 130 people facing financial and social difficulties.

Paying a high price
Pope Francis also lamented that the Covid-19 pandemic has kept those who rely on street papers from working. He said the “most vulnerable, the invisible, and those without an abode are at risk of paying the highest price” from the coronavirus.

“I would like to express my solidarity with the journalists, the volunteers, and the people living thanks to these projects and those who these days are doing everything they can thanks to many innovative ideas,” he said.

The pandemic, said the Pope, has made their work difficult, “But I am sure that the great network of street papers will come back stronger than ever.”

Stories of hope
In conclusion, the Pope encouraged everyone to turn our attention to the poor during this unique moment. He said the poor can “help us all realize how much is actually happening to us and what our circumstances really are. Thank you for the work you do, for the information you provide, and for the stories of hope that you tell.”

COVID-19: ITALIAN BISHOPS PROTEST CONTINUED BAN ON PUBLIC MASSES

Italy’s Bishops’ Conference voices concerns over certain aspects of the government’s plans for “phase 2”, saying the Church “cannot accept seeing the exercise of freedom of religion compromised”.

By Vatican News

The Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) responded shortly after the Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, revealed “phase 2” of the response to the coronavirus crisis on Sunday evening.

In a note sent to the government, the bishops addressed the policies that would continue to restrict the Church’s ability to carry out its pastoral activity. The bishops of Italy made it clear that any move to compromise the “exercise of freedom of religion” is unacceptable.

Noting the important services the Church provides in Italy, the bishops write: “It should be clear to all that the commitment to serving the poor, [which is] so significant in this emergency, stems from a faith that must be nourished at its source, especially the sacramental life.”

Duties of the state and of the Church
In their message, the bishops indicate that they have been in negotiations with the government. As a result, CEI proposed “guidelines and protocols” for the transitional phase of the response to coronavirus, “in full compliance with all health regulations.”

Nonetheless, the note continues, the plan presented by Prime Minister Conte “arbitrarily excludes the possibility of celebrating Mass with the people.”

The bishops remind those responsible for the plan – the Presidency of the Council of Ministers (the prime minister’s office) and the Technical-Scientific Committee – “of the duty to distinguish between their responsibility – to give precise indications related to health matters – and that of the Church, which is called to organize the life of the Christian community, respecting the measures laid down, but in the fullness of their own autonomy.”

Resuming the Church’s pastoral activity
The bishops also take note of an earlier statement by the Minister of the Interior, who said that “new measures were being studied by the Government to allow the widest possible exercise of freedom of worship.” That statement came “after an ongoing and constructive discussion between the General Secretariat of the CEI, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Council Presidency itself,” the bishops say.

In the meantime, “the Church has painfully and with a sense of responsibility accepted the limitations imposed by the government in order to deal with the health crisis.”

In the dialogue with government offices, the note continues, the Bishops’ Conference has stressed, repeatedly and explicitly, that as soon as the measures taken to deal with the pandemic began to be lifted, “the Church would demand to be able to resume its pastoral activity.”

Government response
The Presidency of the Council (the administrative structure that supports the prime minister), acknowledged receipt of the bishops’ communication on Sunday night.

The statement from the administration “confirms what has already been announced” in the prime minister’s press conference, adding, “In the coming days we will already be studying a protocol that will allow the participation of the faithful in liturgical celebrations, in conditions of maximum security, as soon as possible.”

APRIL 2, 2005: A DAY, A MAN, A LIFE TO REMEMBER – A PRAYER FOR THE PANDEMIC IN UNION WITH JOHN PAUL II

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 – 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.

Yesterday I looked back at the vigil of John Paul’s death. 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-tracked but I hope I am now back on track.

And that is the reason I asked yesterday – and ask again today: Did you – or a family member 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?

I don’t mean a general audience. I mean up close and personal! I would like stories that highlight Pope 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.  You might even know someone with a great story!

If you believe you have such a story, write me at: joanknows@gmail.com

APRIL 2, 2005: A DAY, A MAN, A LIFE TO REMEMBER

Today – specifically this evening at 9:37 – marks the 15th 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 column I wrote here yesterday, 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. 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:
Dear Joan,
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,
Joan,
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,

From Ann:
Dear Joanie:
….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.

A PRAYER FOR THE PANDEMIC IN UNION WITH JOHN PAUL II

In a conversation with the Polish news agency KAI, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, former secretary to Pope John Paul, asked all people of good will to join in prayer on Thursday, April 2, at 9.37 pm, to ask God, through the intercession of John Paul II, to end the coronavirus pandemic. “I ask all of you, dear brothers and sisters, to unite with John Paul II again on the fifteenth anniversary of his departure for the Father’s house. I ask you all to be present in this spiritual community on April 2 at 9:37 pm. May our prayer of entrustment go up to Heaven.”

“We need each other so that all together we can plead merciful God, through the intercession of Saint John Paul II, for the cessation of the coronavirus pandemic.”

The cardinal proposed reciting at 9:37 pm the act of entrustment to Divine Mercy that he himself recently pronounced in the sanctuary of Łagiewniki in the chapel of Saint Faustyna Kowalska:

“Almighty God, faced with the pandemic that hit humanity, we zealously renew the act of entrusting St. John Paul II to your Divine Mercy. To you, Merciful Father, we humbly entrust the fate of the world and of every person.

“Stop this coronavirus pandemic. Bless all those who work intensely to ensure that the sick are treated and protect the healthy from infection. Give health to all those affected, instill patience for those in quarantine and welcome the deceased to your heavenly home. Strengthen the sense of responsibility of all healthy people, so that they watch over themselves and others, for the good of the needy. Strengthen our faith, the relationship with Christ, your Son, who has become man for us and is with us every day. Spread your Spirit on the nations and on the whole world, so that those who fight against disease may be united in praising You, Creator of the universe, fighting the virus of sin that destroys human hearts with Christian fortitude.

“Eternal Father, for the painful passion and resurrection of Your Son, have mercy on us and the whole world. Mary, Mother of Mercy, pray for us. Saint John Paul II, Saint Faustina and all the Saints, pray for us. Amen.” (Source ACI Stampa)

WHERE WERE YOU 38 YEARS AGO TODAY?

May 13, a remarkable day in history –

Today, we mark the anniversary of the first apparition of Our Lady at Fatima on May 13, 1917 to the three small shepherd children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta.

Also, it was 38 years ago today that John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square!

WHERE WERE YOU 38 YEARS AGO TODAY?

Do you know where you were 35 years ago today, May 13, 1981?

Well, let me tell you about that day, one I’ll never forget, a day the world, the Church will never forget. A day the world stood still.

I was on my way to St. Peter’s Square for the 5:00 pm general audience that Pope John Paul had just begun to preside. The weather had been very warm and the Vatican had moved the audiences from the hot noonday sun to a later time in the afternoon.

As I walked towards the square after having coffee in a small coffee bar nearby, I saw a group of Italian students, perhaps 30 of them, perhaps 10-years old, walking away from St. Peter’s Square with their teachers. They were not running so there was no reason to worry and I didn’t give them a second thought, except to wonder why they were leaving the papal audience, instead of attending it.

And then I heard a scream! A voice shouted in Italian, “they’ve shot the Pope.” My mind could not process those words together. My feet seemed nailed to the sidewalk, I was momentarily paralyzed – it may have been five seconds or less but I couldn’t move! When I finally absorbed the shock, I ran towards St. Peter’s Square where people were not quietly listening to what should have been a papal catechesis, rather they were going in all directions, asking each other what they heard, asking each other what they had seen. There were a lot of tears, so many people holding their heads, shaking their heads in disbelief, but always the tears.

My mind still could not conceive the words “they’ve shot the Pope.” It was unbelievable, unimaginable. Who in their right mind would want to shoot a man of such magnificent spirituality, such great teaching, such wisdom and humanity and humor, a man whose entire life was a life of prayer, of service, of dedication, of singular love for his Church love for his people, for all people.

Where was that life now – 5:30 in the afternoon of Wednesday, May 13? Had it ended? Was it hanging in the balance? Was it possible to go from joy to sorrow in only a nanosecond?

As I was running towards the square to see what had happened, one of the more amazing things happened.

I had entered St. Peter’s Square and, walking around, had asked in as many languages as I knew what people had heard and what they had seen. At a certain point, a very tall American priest, with an obviously worried expression on his face, came up and asked me if I knew the whereabouts of the two women in his pilgrimage group who had been shot along with Pope John Paul!

Naturally, I was absolutely floored and asked him their names and if he thought they had been taken to a hospital. To this day, 38 years later, I remember those names: Ann Odre was a senior citizen in Father’s group and Rose Hall was the wife of a military man who had just come from – or was perhaps going to – Germany to see him. I made inquiries and found that both women had been taken to the nearby Santo Spirito hospital where, a day or two later, I visited Ann Odre.

Obviously the confusion in the square surpassed understanding. And, in a way, the relative silence surpassed understanding. There was probably more silence than there should have been with a crowd of that size but people were praying, people were not talking, so many were struck dumb by the idea someone would want to shoot a Pope.

John Paul of course became the focus of everyone’s attention: the faithful in the square, the people of Rome whose bishop had just been shot and, thanks to the media, people around the world. As a member of the media, I ran back to the press office to tell my colleagues what I had learned. I worked for a weekly newspaper in Rome at the time – the International Daily American – and also wrote a weekly column for the National Catholic Register as the Rome bureau chief. Working for a weekly it was tough to have a scoop but what I had discovered in the square, especially the information about the two American women, had to be shared with all of my fellow journalists.

For hours we were on the phone. We all called our contacts to ask who might have been in the square, what they saw, what they heard. Bit by bit, information was pieced together. We learned that a man with a gun, had raised it, pointed it at the Pope and fired shots and was immediately wrestled to the ground by a nun. The man, we later discovered, was a Turkish citizen named Ali Agca who was immediately taken into custody.

No one even thought of leaving the press office: Throughout the evening, and into the first hours of the new day, we all had our eyes on the television sets in the press office. There was nothing at that time like today’s social media – no Internet, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and videos made with cell phones (no cell phones at that time, either!), iPads, etc., so we relied on our land line phones and Italian television.

It was an amazing evening. The hours dragged on and on, restaurants closed and yet no one had had dinner. At best, some colleagues went to a few coffee bars before they closed to get a sandwich and some coffee for what we knew would be a long night. We all knew that no matter what we were writing, the final story line could not be written until we heard from the Gemelli hospital if the Pope had survived his surgery or if indeed a final line have been written in the life of Pope John Paul.

Given God’s great love – and surely his Mother Mary’s love as well – for this special man, given Pope John Paul’s belief in Divine Mercy and his unshakeable belief in Divine Providence, we all received the gift of a Pope who survived and a long papacy, following this potentially fatal day.

I got to bed in the wee small hours of the morning after dictating my story on the phone to the Register, based at the time in Los Angeles. I was exhausted when I went to bed and only slept a few hours because all of us were anxious to return to work the next morning and find out what had happened to the Pope overnight.

You all know the rest of the story: Pope John Paul survived, had a long recovery period and eventually had other surgeries: There would be another 24 years of a fruitful pontificate by a traveling Pope, a Pope who wrote documents and poetry, a Pope who influenced the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

As I write these words 38 years later, that Pope is now Saint John Paul II.

Now, do you remember where you were 38 years ago today, May 13, 1981, feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the gentle lady whose loving hand, as John Paul said, deflected the bullet that could have killed him?

I met the Holy Father many times over the years and have an album of photos and a bigger album of memories.

“NEWT’S WORLD” MEETS “JOAN’S ROME”: BEHIND THE SCENES WITH JOAN LEWIS

“NEWT’S WORLD” MEETS “JOAN’S ROME”: BEHIND THE SCENES WITH JOAN LEWIS

Today, Easter Sunday, marks the launch of “Cookies with the Pope,” Episode 11 of Newt’s World, the weekly podcast from Newt Gingrich. I was honored beyond telling when Newt told me months ago that he was launching a podcast and wanted me to be among his first guests.

The Gingriches and I have known each other for ten years – amazing, wonderful, enriching years of friendship, mutual discoveries, remarkable adventures, and memorable meals. Even more memorable perhaps have been the myriad stories we have shared, always harking back to the fact that it was a Pope who brought us together, St. John Paul II, a Pope about whom the Gingriches made a documentary, “Nine Days that Changed the World,” and a Pope for whom I made chocolate chip cookies!

Newt and I share some of those stories on this week’s podcast. The podcast will remain up on his site, as you will see, so that you can listen today, tomorrow, or next week and beyond!

Here’s an intro: https://www.gingrich360.com/2019/04/newts-world-ep-11-cookies-with-the-pope/

Click here to listen to the podcast, read my bio, see a gallery of photos of my moments with John Paul II, listen to a trio of the hundreds of TV appearances and radio interviews I’ve done over the years for EWTN, and get my recipe for chocolate chip cookies! Scroll all the way through this link to access everything.

Listen Now:

iTunes:
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-11-cookies-with-the-pope-joan-lewis/id1452065072?i=1000435877128

Let’s make this go viral!

The photo in the slide show on the right side of the screen, a photo where I am kneeling in front of Pope John Paul and wearing a blue skirt and blue and black jacket, was the last time I ever saw him – December 14, 2004.

The then head of the Holy See Press Office, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, had asked the Pope if he would receive the staff of the press office to mark Joaquin’s 20th anniversary as Vatican spokesman.

John Paul’s health had declined significantly but he never was one to say ‘no’ and so he welcomed all of us that day. Among other things, it was a struggle for the Holy Father to raise his head.

When I learned of the audience I went online to learn how to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in Polish. I found the Polish words as well as a phonetic pronunciation, wrote those down on a small post-it note and had that in my left hand the whole morning, reading it aloud several times before going to the Apostolic Palace.

We were privileged to meet the Holy Father one by one. When it was my turn, I glanced for a last time at my Polish notes, knelt down before the Pope and wished him Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. He raised his head and for what was to be the last time, his blue eyes met mine.

After the meeting, Joaquin told me that was the most beautiful gesture I could have done. “Do you realize,” he asked me, “that you were the only one for whom the Pope raised his head?”

And for the second time that morning, my eyes filled with tears.

14 YEARS AGO, THE FUNERAL OF ST JOHN PAUL THE GREAT

14 YEARS AGO, THE FUNERAL OF ST JOHN PAUL THE GREAT

Today, April 8 is the 14th anniversary of one of the most remarkable days in the history of the Church – the funeral of the beloved Pope John Paul II after an almost 27-year papacy, the 3rd longest in the Catholic Church after St. Peter and Pope Pius IX. He had died on April 2, vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday.

I was reporting on the funeral that day and the photos I took in the following slideshow were taken both before the funeral Mass as I walked from my home to the Holy See Press Office and then after the funeral Mass as I walked down Via della Conciliazione and around Pza. Pio XII and St. Peter’s Square.

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Having worked at the Vatican for 15 years of his pontificate, I cannot forget the man, his works, his life, long illness, death and massive funeral. Those of us who worked for the Holy See were privileged to pay our respects in the Apostolic Palace’s Clementine Hall where the Pope was laying in state. He had been moved there on April 3 and then to the basilica for viewing by the faithful on April 4. Even there, we employees had a privileged entrance.

These pictures are from the vigil of the funeral as people paid their respects inside the basilica, day and night.

An estimated 4 million people were in Rome for the week following John Paul’s death – 4 million souls whom Rome fed and housed and cared for! Just over half were able to enter St. Peter’s Basilica to view the pontiff, often waiting in line from 5 to 19 hours!! Over 1 million watched his funeral on 30 megascreens set up throughout the city.

The Vatican announced that 149 heads of State and government were at the funeral – the single largest gathering in history of heads of State outside of the United Nations and that number included 4 kings and 5 queens and scores of presidents and prime ministers.

I live across from Vatican City and watched the incredible cavalcade of VIP cars as they entered Vatican City via the Perugino Gate to access the Diplomats Door of St. Peter’s Basilica. Motorcades carrying heads of state or government may enter Vatican City except for police escorts.

On a normal day the walk from my apartment to the Vatican office where I worked would have taken 8 minutes. April 8th it was closer to 40 minutes and I was lucky at that because every uniformed officer who in some way surrounded Vatican City that day and was guarding all access via streets and sidewalks had been given a copy of the official Vatican press office ID and told to absolutely let us through so we could work.

Rome was like no one had ever seen it: Car and truck traffic was greatly reduced or banned completely in certain areas of the center of Rome and banned in all areas surrounding Vatican City. VIP motorcades that brought dignitaries to the Vatican were allowed, as I said. Schools and public offices were closed. One could hear the constant whirr of security helicopter rotors and the noise of fighter jets as they flew around airspace closed to private planes.

The sheer numbers of the day were overwhelming – the numbers of cars, motorcycles, policemen, fireman – just about anyone who wore a uniform – was at or near the Vatican that day. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of faithful who filled every inch of space created by God and man.

For me, the most stunning image of the day was that of the Holy Father’s simple wood coffin on top of which was the Book of Gospels, What was so stunning was how the strong wind (the Holy Spirit for sure!) opened the book, gently turned the pages and finally closed the Book of Gospels as if signifying the end of an earthly life and the start of eternal life – as if justifying the countless banners that read SANTO SUBITO – SAINTHOOD IMMEDIATELY!

As Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, main celebrant of the Mass and future Benedict XVI, said in his funeral homily: “Our hearts are full of sadness, yet at the same time of joyful hope and profound gratitude.”

POPE TO ACADEMY FOR LIFE: PROMOTE HUMANISM OF FRATERNITY

The Pontifical Academy for Life was originally instituted by St. John Paul on February 11, 1994 with the Motu proprio “Vitae mysterium.” It was dedicated to “study, information and formation on the principal problems of biomedicine and of law, relative to the promotion and defense of life, above all in the direct relation that they have with Christian morality and the directives of the Church’s Magisterium”.

In 2016 and 2017 Pope Francis overhauled one of the stars of his predecessor’s pontificate, creating a new academy, statues and members, including at least one who is pro-abortion. Remarkably the original requirement for members to sign a “Declaration of the Servants of Life” was removed. This aimed at making explicit the members’ willingness to follow Church teaching on the sacredness of human life and to defend life on the Magisterium’s teaching.

Pope Francis also included the idea of “human ecology” and creation in outlining the focal points of the academy.

Today’s papal message comes just before 46th annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. on Friday, January 18, and the 13th edition of the March for Life in Paris on Sunday, January 20.

The Vatican news portal on Monday published a Message from Francis to the Paris March with words of encouragement.

As I read – and re-read – today’s Message I noted something interesting: the words “right to life,” “pro-life” and “unborn” do not appear. “Abortion” appears once. Humanism 5 times, humanity 5 times, human 9 times (separate from humanity and humanism).

POPE TO ACADEMY FOR LIFE: PROMOTE HUMANISM OF FRATERNITY

On the 25th anniversary of the foundation of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Pope Francis calls on its members to promote human fraternity and a humanism of life.
By Christopher Wells (vaticannews)

Pope Francis made the “human community” the focus of a letter addressed to the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life on the 25th anniversary of its foundation by Pope St John Paul II. (vaticannews photo)

God’s dream
“The human community is God’s dream even from before the creation of the world,” the Pope said, emphasizing that we must “grow in the awareness of our common origin in God’s love and creative act.” He explained that “in our time, the Church is called once more to propose the humanism of the life that bursts forth from God’s passion for human beings.”

A state of emergency
After briefly reviewing the history of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Pope Francis went on to outline the “serious obstacles” facing humanity today. In particular, he noted the “state of emergency existing in our relationship with the history of the earth and its peoples.” This emergency, rooted in concern for oneself at the expense of the common good, has led to a paradox: despite rapid economic and technological progress, humanity finds itself “creating our most bitter divisions and our worst nightmares.”

A difficult task for the Church
In response, the Pope said, the Church is called to react against the negativity that “foments division, indifference, and hostility.” This is a difficult task for the Church, which is in danger of failing to recognize the gravity of the contemporary emergency. “It’s time,” he said, “for a new vision aimed at promoting a humanism of fraternity and solidarity between individuals and peoples.”

Speaking of the future of the Academy, Pope Francis said, “We need to enter into the language of men and women today, making the Gospel message incarnate in their concrete experience.” He expressed his hope that the Pontifical Academy for Life might be “a place for courageous dialogue in the service of the common good.” In particular, the Pope spoke of the importance of seeking universal criteria for making decisions, as well as a deepening understanding of the relationship between rights and duties. He called, too, for continued study of “emergent” and “convergent” technologies, mentioning specifically information and communication technologies, biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, and robotics.

The unkept promise of modernity
Finally, Pope Francis said, “The kind of medicine, economy, technology, and politics that develop within the modern city of man must also, above all, remain subject to the judgment rendered by the peripheries of the earth.” We should remember, he said, “that fraternity remains the unkept promise of modernity.”

“The strengthening of fraternity,” he said in conclusion, “generated in the human family by the worship of God in spirit and truth, is the new frontier of Christianity.”

Read the full text of Pope Francis’ Letter to the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life for the 25th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Academy.  http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/letters/2019/documents/papa-francesco_20190106_lettera-accademia-vita.html

 

APRIL 2, 2005: A DAY, A MAN, A LIFE TO REMEMBER

Today’s column is about memories.

As I wrote yesterday on these pages and as you will read below, I look back to ten years ago today, April 2, 2005 and my memories of the day, the hour, the moment that Pope John Paul II died.  And I also look forward, to the future, to publishing some of the memories I have from the years I worked for the Vatican during his papacy.

JOHN PAUL II RIP

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.

And now I ask: Did you – or a family member 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?

I don’t mean a general audience….I mean up close and personal!  I would like stories that highlight Pope 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 St. Paul’s humanity.

If you believe you have such a unique story – and I know very few people on the planet had such encounters – write me at: joanknows@gmail.com

If you can tell the story between 500 and 1000 words, that would be super!

APRIL 2, 2005: A DAY, A MAN, A LIFE TO REMEMBER

Today – specifically this evening at 9:37 – marks the 10th anniversary of the death of Saint John Paul II. Those ten 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, entering his third 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 here yesterday, 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. 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:

Dear Joan,

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,

Joan,

 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,

From Ann:

Dear Joanie:

 ….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

APRIL 1, 2005: THE VIGIL SEEN AROUND THE WORLD

Tomorrow, April 2, Holy Thursday marks the 10th anniversary of the death of St. John Paul II. 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 – 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 but this is, as you can see, from the TV).

DSCN0057

Saturday, April 1, 2005 was a very long day. Obituaries of important people are always prepared by the media long before their demise and Pope John Paul’s bio was no exception. We at VIS had been working on a bio in four languages for some time.

On April 1, I was given the following to translate into English – just in case:

“The Holy Father, John Paul II, died (today, this morning, this evening) at ……….a.m. (p.m.) in his private apartment.

“He was assisted by his two private secretaries, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz and Mons. Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, by his personal physician, Dr. Renato Buzzonetti and a medical team (and by Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano, Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, substitute of the Secretariat of State, by the camerlengo of Holy Roman Church, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo) and by the sisters who serve in the papal apartment.

“All procedures foreseen in the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici gregis, promulgated by John Paul II on February 22, 1996, have been activated.”

Both April 1 and April 2 were very long days, hours of uncertainty, visits to St. Peter’s Square to see the thousands that became tens of thousands of faithful who came to pray for a miracle and, in the evening to sing to the Holy Father, hoping he would hear them, especially his beloved young people.

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My emotions were all over the place for days. The damn broke and tears really flowed for a long time late on April 2 when I left VIS. John Paul had died at 9:37 pm, we officially learned of his death just before 10 and at that moment we transmitted all the stories we had prepared for this eventuality – including what I had been asked to translate about his death a day earlier.

When all was said and done, I left the press office and spent an hour in St. Peter’s Square, crying my heart out for a while and then just watching people pray, sofly sing songs, light candles, hug each other, hold hands and so on.  Just as they had done on April 1, the vigil of his death.

DSCN0074

I want to share some photos I took that night (wish I’d had my good digital camera!) and two letters I wrote. I have preserved all the emails I received in those turbulent and very sad days.

Here are two letters I wrote on April 1, 2005: This first one was to a niece with whom I corresponded during the hours of waiting in the office:

Friday – April 1, 2005

Dear Beth,I am at work – it is 9:10 p.m. and I have been here for 12 and half hours – and did not sleep at all last night. Am scheduled to be here until midnight. Got to bed about 2:30 but was wide awake until the alarm went off at 7. These hours have been surreal – the worsening health situation, translating the press office bulletins and knowing information before everyone else, going to the square every hour or so – seeing the mass of journalists, the huge numbers of faithful pouring in non-stop, day becoming night – and a life probably ending.

DSCN0077

What is so unreal is to see the countless numbers of people – and be almost able to hear a pin drop – the religious, awed silence, the respect for a truly great and wonderful man who is leaving us. I wrote a friend today that I have felt closer to God all day because I think that God is personally coming down to earth to get Pope John Paul, not the Pope going up to meet him. To think that soon he will be united with his beloved Virgin Mary, his own parents and brother and a sister he never knew!

I am writing you now in my office but will soon go out into the square to say my own goodbye – I am writing these words through tears, sorry! What an extraordinary human being, what a giant – spiritually and theologically and humanly and even politically! How many people the Holy Father touched, how very much he touched my life and made me a better person and better Catholic.

DSCN0081

I am watching CNN – at home last night I watched Fox but it is not working in our office now. Fox wants me to do another “At Large” with Geraldo – said they really liked me. However, I’d have to be at the Fox spot 4:30 a.m. Monday morning! I have to let them know by tomorrow evening.

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There are tens of thousands of people just yards away from me – yet I feel so alone. I just may have to go outside – I need that company. My cell phone keeps ringing every 10 or 15 minutes, however. I’ve done a few phoners today for EWTN and have kept them updated on every aspect of the day, the press office bulletins, etc.

DSCN0084

The following letter is to a priest friend:

Hi Father,

Many thanks for your package which arrived today – April 1 – is that providential or an eerie coincidence or what!  We are waiting further word on Pope John Paul. I’m sure you’ve been glued to the TV. I was up until 2:30 a.m., went to bed for a few hours but did not sleep, came here this morning and will stay until at least 9 p.m. Have received e-mails of support and love and prayers for me and am trying to briefly answer those.

If you get EWTN I will be doing phoners for them each day and if the Pope dies and they come here, I’ll be doing live programs.

This sign says: “You are the most beautiful of Adam’s sons!”

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I simply cannot imagine life without this man – nor the Church without him. I would not want to be a cardinal now and his possible successor – how do you follow a giant!!!! John Paul is a wonderful, truly great, unique God-threw-away-the-mold-when-He-created-him man. I do not want him to suffer anymore, however. I feel closer to God today because I know He is not bringing the Pope up to Him in heaven – God is coming down to escort him to his Kingdom. But I’ll still cry long and hard when he goes. I don’t think now is the time for a miracle. I must go. Please stay close. I feel sad and empty and lost – and he is still with us!

PS – Do not miss reading “Joan’s Rome” or my Facebook page tomorrow, April 2, 2015!!