REMEMBERING A SAINT…
If you were alive and over the age of reason, you probably remember where you were fifteen years ago today April 1, 2015. The world stood still for hours as we kept vigil over a man whom the entire world – men and women, young and old, Catholics, Christians, people of different faiths and of no faith – had come to know and love, admire and respect over a period of almost 27 years: Pope John Paul II.
I was working for the Vatican at the time, a writer and editor for the Vatican Information Service, an office within the Holy See Press Office. For years we had been following the ups and downs of John Paul’s health and this truly, really seemed like the end. For days there had not been a scintilla of good news coming from the Apostolic Palace.
I have files and files of personal letters and emails from those days, statistics about Rome and the days leading up to the April 8 funeral, and some of the stories we wrote at VIS. Over the years, when the Holy See Press Office wanted a statement from the then director, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, to be translated into English, they sent the original Italian to VIS where I would quickly translate the text and get it back to Joaquin. When needed, especially for a longer text, I was sometimes joined by a native English-speaking colleague.
And, over the years, with the help of several medical dictionaries, we even achieved a kind of mastery over medical terms when Navarro-Valls, a medical doctor by trade, would send us bulletins about the papal health. These were obviously quite numerous in the last months of John Paul’s life.
The document that most left me breathless, however, was John Paul’s last will and testament! I still have my translation of that testament, that witness to a life.
It was so personal, so intimate, so typically John Paul in many ways that I felt both honored and humbled to be asked to translate it. I both cried and prayed as I translated.
The first time we met – December 1985:
I actually spent quite some time this afternoon re-reading the many files I had kept, all gathered together under the title “APRIL 2005.” Each name, each person to whom I wrote and who wrote me, each statistic recorded, all the condolences that arrived, each was as fresh in my mind’s eye as if it happened minutes ago.
The last time I saw John Paul – December 14, 2004:
Following are two of the many letters I wrote 15 years ago today.
By the way, if you have a wonderful, funny, touching, amazing story about John Paul and how he touched your life or the life of someone you know, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
LETTER TO A PRIEST FRIEND
Many thanks for your package that 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 9pm. 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 voicers for them each day and if the Pope dies and they come here I’ll be doing live programs.
I simply cannot imagine life without this man – or 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!
LETTER TO A NIECE
Friday – April 1, 2005
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.
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 Catholic.
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.
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.
Love, Aunt Joan