March 1, 2013
Nearly eight years ago, in the late evening of April 2, 2005, the world said goodbye to Pope John Paul II. Vaya con Dios, Papa. As a non-Catholic who was preoccupied with my own busy life, I made little note of his passing.
His pontificate lasted nearly 27 years, but the only real memory I have of Pope John Paul II was seeing him standing in his Popemobile, waving to us as he sped up Central Avenue in Phoenix, just a block from my home. He made 104 pastoral visits outside of Italy, and we felt lucky to witness history.
In the past month, one of my great joys has been watching the EWTN channel’s historical review of Popes. I lived for over a quarter of a century during the lifetime of one of the world’s most popular religious leaders, but until this month I had seen and heard essentially nothing about Blessed Pope John Paul II.
It is easy to forget that the first commercial access to the Internet only happened in 1990, twelve years after the election of Pope John Paul II. And YouTube did not officially debut until December, 2005, fifteen years later, too late even to provide live video coverage of his funeral.
From the evening of April 2, until his funeral on April 8, 2005, more than three million pilgrims went to Rome to pay homage to the mortal remains of Pope John Paul II. Some of them stayed in line for up to 24 hours to enter St. Peter’s Basilica. That would have been worth seeing.
Today, as I witness St. Peter’s Square filled with pilgrims, I am amazed at the Pope’s significance in our world. Perhaps I should have understood this long before today. But in an instant, being able to soak in the coverage of today’s events and revisit them on YouTube, I see for myself what the news has been reluctant to admit. The world is lucky to be able to look to the Pope for leadership.
What an absolute joy to be liberated from the stranglehold our press has held on religious news! If unable to contain positive Christian news in a black hole, main stream reporters have managed to intone darkly with their questions. On NBC, a sober news anchor suggests that the Council of Cardinals might bring the church out of the dark ages and reward the liberal non-religious by reversing the church’s position on birth control. Snide, all-knowing chuckles follow.
Changing channels, on EWTN, buoyant commentators revisit the high points of Pope Benedict XVI’s years in the papacy. They love this gentle patriarch. They pray for his well-being. And cameras scan the vast crowds who love him, too.
In Pope Benedict’s Farewell Audience on February 27, he opened his heart to the crowds and shared fond greetings and memories with them:
They write to me as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters, with a sense of a very affectionate family bond. Here one can sense palpably what the Church is – not an organization, an association for religious or humanitarian ends, but a living body, a communion of brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ, which makes us all one. To experience the Church in this way and to be able as it were to put one’s finger on the strength of her truth and her love, is a cause for joy at a time when so many people are speaking of her decline. But we see how the Church is alive today!
The retiring Pope encourages the Church:
We are in the Year of Faith which I desired precisely to reaffirm our faith in God in a context which seems to push him more and more into the background. I should like to invite all of us to renew our firm confidence in the Lord, to entrust ourselves like children in God’s arms, certain that those arms always hold us, enabling us to press forward each day, even when the going is rough. I want everyone to feel loved by that God who gave his Son for us and who has shown us his infinite love. I want everyone to feel the joy of being a Christian.
At this moment I feel great confidence, because I know, we all know, that the Gospel word of truth is the Church’s strength, it is her life. The Gospel purifies and renews, it bears fruit, wherever the community of believers hears it and receives God’s grace in truth and charity. This is my confidence, this is my joy.
Love, faith and hope…the Pope gives everyone a parting message that all faiths can cherish. He is willing to open his arms wide with a humble embrace large enough for even his critics. In the modern world of communication, his light cannot any longer be hidden under a basket. It is a beacon, shining on the hill.
The crowds waving goodbye to Pope Benedict XVI reaffirm our trust in people and in the God of their faith. From each face representing all nations, cultures and generations, love is transmitted to their beloved Papa.
We can see it. We are a witness to truth. We can share it with those who missed it. And we can return again via the Internet to see it again, our visual memory of a cherished relationship that will pave the way for the next Pope.
Thank you for your service, Pope Benedict. Thank you for your love. And may you be greatly encouraged in knowing that we feel much loved, knowing you will fulfill your vow to pray for us into Eternity.
Vaya con Dios, Papa.