This morning the Church had the joy of proclaiming Saint two very important figures of the 20th Century: Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, important for both the Church and the World. In these last days it has become very popular on the Web to share stories experiences of both holy Popes. Here is mine.
I was born in the last of years of Pope Paul VI, so I cannot say that Pope John Paul II was the only Pope I had, but he certainly was the first that I knew. I cannot recall how I first heard of the this Saint, but I do know that I have long had a fascination with him and deep affection for him. I remember, as a young boy, reading over and over again a simple cartoon book about the life of the new Saint. I was captivated, even then, with his simplicity, his joy, his energy, and his capacity to trust in God despite all of the sufferings and challenges he faced in his life. And what perhaps struck me the most was his closeness to the youth, and this was evident even before World Youth Day.
When St. Pope John Paul II toured Canada in 1984, my family did not miss our chance to pray with this holy man, with this great leader of our Faith. I vaguely remember getting up very early to drive out to the site, which was in Moncton (New Brunswick), nearly 3 hours away, but I do vividly remember the rest of that cold and wet September morning.
Two of my brothers and I, dressed up in our Fall mud suits and covered with black garbage bags to keep us dry, had a grand time running in and around the great crowd. How we never got lost is a miracle in itself!
It seems to me that my family had a fairly decent place, and I remember my brothers and I rushing to the ropes to see the Pope enter the field in his Popemobile. What excitement we felt! Us little boys, not more than 5-9 years old, living in the middle of nowhere, were welcoming the Holy Father! What excitement and joy!
I don’t remember much from the rest of the Mass, but I do recall hearing his young and vibrant voice during the Homily. That day, I am sure, bolstered my interest in the Pope and in the Church.
A few years later, in the Spring of 1988, now living in Western Canada, Bishop Blaise Morand (now emeritus) of Prince Albert, mentioned in his Homily at my Confirmation that he would be going to Rome for his ad limina in the following October. I got really excited about this!
Mom and Dad had given me as a Confirmation gift a beautiful medallion of Pope John Paul II, and I was thrilled to carry that image with me. Now, with the Bishop’s announcement I was at one degree of separation with this great man of the Church!
In the boldness of my youth I approached the Bishop after Mass and asked him if he would be able to bring my new medallion to the Pope and ask him to bless it for me. (I’m not sure I would have that kind of courage today!) Bishop Blaise, in his casual and gruff fashion replied, “Sure! I won’t take it with me tonight, because I’ll probably lose it, but send it to me later along with a letter explaining what you want, and I’ll do my best.” Well, that made my day!! In fact, it’s practically the only thing I remember about my Confirmation!
Over the next few months I prepared. Again, in my courageous youth, I took the framed picture of the Pope that we had in our home and drew a copy of it, and included it with my letter and sent these to Bishop Blaise along with my medal. Now, I I never took a picture of my drawing to prove it, but according to my memory, it was quite good, if I do say so myself ;-).
A couple of months later, I received a padded envelope in the mail. Bishop Blaise had made good on his promise. His short letter explained that he did indeed take my medal to be blessed by Pope John Paul II. And not just that, the Bishop also sent me a Rosary blessed by Pope John Paul II. I promptly started wearing my medal and using my new Rosary. Now whether the medal was blessed en masse with the crowds or whether the Rosary was given to the Bishop (instead of for me by the Pope), it really doesn’t matter. These two items have been a symbol of my admiration for a man who gave his whole life to Jesus out of love for God and for others; they are two of my most precious possessions.
While I was never able to meet Saint John Paul II – even when I worked on staff at WYD 2002 –, this exchange with him through Bishop Blaise gave me a profound and precious connection with this holy man. From that moment, I believe that he and I have shared a bond. He was always a role model for means an inspiration, and when I entered the Seminary in 2002, I did so to become a Priest according to the heart and love of John Paul II. And every time I had a hard time in my journey toward the Priesthood I turned to my picture of my beloved friend to ask for his prayers and his support.
When he died in 2005, I felt as though I had lost a close friend. But I also knew that we were now closer than before. I look forward to the day when I will meet him face to face when I, too, am called home to the Father to rejoice in the reward of His faithful servants.
While I don’t wear the medallion (it stains my shirts) nor carry this Rosary in my pocket anymore (I lost it for a couple months in 2012), today I will carry them both with me in honour of my friend and intercessor. Saint John Paul II, pray for us; pray for me!