Saturday, October 22, 2016

An old, frail man

Today is the feast of Saint John Paul II. I could go on and on about how much I admired him. But I won't. I could list all the amazing things that he did. But I won't. I could tell you how he changed my life, significantly. So I will.

I was not in touch with the Church or even the Pope until I was invited to attend World Youth Day in Quebec in 2002. This was a pivotal point for me. I was just coming to realize what it meant to be a Catholic. I had just recently come back to my faith, in baby steps. This invitation would soon turn my life around. World Youth Day was actually started by John Paul II almost at the beginning of his pontificate. In the most simple way, it was his way of gathering youth from all over the world, and just loving them. Celebrating with them. And encouraging them.

"He saw the good in the youth, the good. He also saw that the young people were sensitive. He noticed they were searching for something. Hence, he recognized that you have to surround yourself with young people." (Cardinal Dziwisz's Interview with EWTN, speaking about St. John Paul II).

So he did surround himself with young people.

That night, the night that the youth surrounded the Pope, I saw something so moving. I saw a frail, sickly, eighty-one year old man, waving his arms in delight. The young people sang. His head that slouched from the parkinson's that had taken over his body, barely revealed the overwhelming smile that lit up his face. His eyes, peered in the distance as he used all his strength to look out onto the crowd of almost 850,000 people. The young people sang. They cried tears of joy.

What in the world was going on?

I didn't understand. And I didn't care that I didn't understand. It was beautiful. How this frail, elderly man could create such an intimate moment with hundreds of thousands of youth, who all felt so intensely loved and wanted at that very moment, was beyond me. It was a mystery. It was all really beyond anyone's understanding.

I flew home a few days later and was still in a daze. I couldn't put my finger on what had just taken place. But I knew that I was on fire. I wanted to tell everyone about what I had just experienced. I wanted to know more about my faith, about the Catholic Church. I didn't want to just know what other people said and thought about the Catholic Church. I wanted to know for myself, what it was all about. I wanted to learn from her history. Her tradition. Her teachings. From her over two-thousand years of being the light of Christ on earth.

And I wanted to know why this eighty-one year old man could capture the hearts of so many young people?

Not anything anyone said or did could deter me from this mission. I searched. I read. I prayed.

In 2004, I went on to study Theology in Rome.

Some of the best years of my life were spent there. In the heart of the Church.

There I had a few more encounters with this elderly man that everyone wowed over during Papal Audiences and other Papal events. The crowds yelled out to him like he was some sort of rockstar.
And he was! That was the most amazing thing. Pope John Paul II was a rockstar in his own way. There was something people saw in him that drove them to want to be close to him. They wanted to reach out and touch him. Take pictures of him. Have the opportunity to say something to him.

For the remaining year and a half of his life, that I was in Rome, I studied him. Why? Why were people so enamored by him? Why was I so taken by him? But I did more than just study how people reacted to him. I began to read the hundred upon hundreds of documents, letter, encyclicals, exhortations, homilies, books and speeches that he had written.

His words spoke truth to my heart. A truth that rang true in so many hearts. It was the truth of Christ. It was the truth of our lives. He was so in love with Christ that he couldn't help but reveal him to all the world. Christ came through in everything he did. In the way he looked at people. In the way he spoke to them. Forgave them. Loved them.

He forgave Mehmet Ali Ağca, the man who attempted to kill him on May 13, 1981.

He was the Vicar of Christ.

His body continued to fail him. Even his voice would go right before his last Easter.  I remember during his last Angelus on St. Peter's Square, he could only make out grunts and other unintelligible sounds. That is what resonated through the Square. Everyone was in tears. He was in tears. Only days remained before he would leave us.

I stood there the evening it seemed that all of Rome had converged onto St. Peter's Square. We gathered to pray for the now dying Pope. It was the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday. We prayed the rosary and just waited and watched. We watched the ever faithful light that always shined bright from his Papal apartment.

And then it switched off.

The light was out. The light of our dear Holy Father was out. He was gone.

It was 9:37 p.m. I'll never forget.

Many do not understand how an eighty-four year old man could have been so significant in my life, or in the lives of so many young people. You'd have to have known him. I didn't know him. But I knew him. I loved him. He was like a father. He showed me the face of Christ.

He taught us about love. You can read about that here.
He taught us about life. You can read about that here.
He taught us about mercy. You can read about that here.
He even taught us about our own feminine genius. Read that here.
And. He. Taught. Us. So. Much. More.

This is the treasure of the Church. She is not just an institution. She is not just a body of clerics commanding Catholics how to behave and live. She is two-thousand years of tradition and of faith that have carried over from the time of Christ. It is all there, for you to see for yourself.

What she has to offer is life. What she can give you is what we are all seeking. Christ.

St. Pope John Paul II was just one of many Popes who left a legacy. One of so many. So much richness. So much wisdom. So much treasure that lives on and is not changed by society, nor wars, nor trends or revolutions. It remains the same. Two thousand years later. She is the same. She is rooted in the eternal. Christ.

He was special, because he was my Pope. The Pope of my youth. The Pope that brought me back to the fold of my faith. My Church.

He taught me that when there is love that is founded on truth, founded on Christ, even a frail-elderly man can be significant. Even if the world will tell you he is useless.


  1. Thank you, Alejandra. I had tears in my eyes while reading this. (I probably would have had more tears if I wasn't at Starbucks, surrounded by people while reading it.) St. John Paul II was and is such a gift for the church, for the world. He has given us so much. Being in Rome during his last days is such a blessing that can never be forgotten. He taught us all so much!

    1. Yes. He certainly was a gift. Thank you for reading dear Anne. It was a special time. And we shared it together :)

  2. My favorite pope!!! There will never be another like him! I remember the day he passed like yesterday and also had the pleasure to him him do his last New Years mass in 2005!
    Giovanna Aurora Caccavale