- Posted April 24, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Canonización de Juan Pablo II
Encounters with Pope John Paul II
The soon to be canonized Pope John Paul II was the pope for the greater part of my life. After all, of the five popes (Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis), only he has reigned for 27 years. Having been born and raised in a Catholic family, I heard more than once from my parents the word "pope". This was so especially in 1978, the year of three popes. One of my earliest memories was to hear about the death of Pope Paul VI and the new pope that followed, John Paul, who died soon after and was replaced by another John Paul. Pope John Paul II came to the Philippines in 1981 and I remember glued to the TV with my mother and my siblings watching intently even if I did not understand what was actually happening. Yes, on the black and white television screen I saw the benevolent face of this young pope whom I would meet face to face more than twenty years later.
In our religion class in sixth grade we were asked to write biographies of saints or holy people. I chose to write about Pope John Paul II. I had to ask special permission from the teacher who had insisted that we write about canonized saints. I was stubborn on the choice that I made and wrote about the pope.
As a young religious I saw Pope John Paul II when he came to Manila for the World Youth Day in 1995. This time the closest I was able to see him was about ten meters as he waved from the popemobile to the throng at Roxas Boulevard. His visit culminated with perhaps the biggest eucharistic celebration in history (over five million in attendance).
The first time I came to Rome in 2001 as deacon I was able to attend a good number of masses, audiences and the regular Sunday gatherings at Saint Peter's Square for the angelus. Thereby making it a normal fare to "see the Pope".
But the more blessed moments were yet to come. On February 14, 2002, the day after Ash Wednesday, the Pope gathered the clergy of Rome for an audience. I was able to go and at the end of the audience, he let all those present greet him. When it was my turn and I was in front of him, I took his hand and I was speechless. His eyes were looking straight into mine (photo 1 and 2) I had to stand up and give the place to the next one after me. But I was ecstatic for days.
Encounter number two came in October 4, 2003. I was already a priest and finishing a course in Rome. One of the bishops, who was a Salesian, came for their periodic "ad limina visit". He had a free slot and so he took me and another lay person with him to see the John Paul II. The Pope was in his private library where was receiving the visiting bishops and their companions. We were introduced and I here I was able to hold his hand a second time. Once again, I was speechless and his eyes, as before, looked straight into mine (photo 3 and 4). He gave me a rosary which I keep to this day (photo 5).
One occasion I am including here was not really a face to face encounter with him, but it was a privileged moment of reading a prayer intention in front of him in the Christmas Midnight Mass in 2003 (photo 6). My return to Rome opened to me the grace of witnessing the beatification of John Paul II in 2011 and visit often his tomb which is now in one of the altars of Saint Peter's Basilica (photo 7). And the grace continues: on Sunday Pope John Paul II will be canonized.
I consider what I have recounted as high moments in my life that come alongside the more quiet encounters like my mentioning his name in the eucharistic prayer at mass when he was still alive, reading the encyclical and exhortations that he wrote as pope, reading poetry that he had written before he became pope. And these quiet encounters, I believe, are those that made the face to face encounters more special and what makes this upcoming canonization rites extra-meaningful for me.
(photo credits: photos 1, 3 and 4 by Fotografia Felici; photos 2 and 6 by L'Osservatore Romano; photos 5 and 7 were taken from my camera)