Remembering the Pope I never really knew…

… I never knew Bl. John Paul II, at least not while he was alive. Today marks the anniversary of his passing in 2005. Since that time I’ve come to learn so much about this man that was admired and loved by millions. Sadly, I never developed the same fondness shared by so many others because I didn’t grow up knowing him. I was still going through RCIA when he passed away.

It wasn’t till his funeral I learned anything about him at all, along with a large majority of other non-Catholics or fallen away Catholics around the world. It was a moment of universal bonding- mourning a long loved Pope or learning about a remarkable man whose loss grieved so many. Who was this man who broke so many hearts at his passing?

The crowd keeping vigil in St. Peter's Square the night he died; April 2, 2005.

The day following John Paul II’s televised funeral 32 people were waiting at the doors of the parish hall to sit it on an RCIA class and find out more about this man and the Church he served. The following year our parish saw a record number of converts. It was reported in the local Diocesan paper that parishes all over Charlotte saw the same record numbers of converts making their professions of faith the year after JPII passed away.

That year marking the first anniversary of his death also marked the return of my mother to the Church after a 40+ year absence. My grandmother followed shortly after on her death bed. They both loved JPII very much, even those years when my mom held no religious convictions and my grandmother was a devout Southern Baptist. I don’t believe either really knew any more about him than I did. I think they thought he was a good man of God, devoted and joyful. But that seemed to be enough to make my mom weep bitterly at the loss of “her” pope when EWTN aired shows about his life.

The funeral of John Paul II.

I feel like such an outsider when I talk of Bl. John Paul II or when people bring up how much he touched their lives. Pope Benedict is my Pope. Pope Benedict has been my Pope since the time I came into the Church in 2006. His is the smiling image that hangs on my wall. He is my son’s Pope. I don’t think I will have the same familial affection for Bl. JPII as I will for Papa Benedict. Even when I found myself in Rome for his beatification…

View of St. Peter's Square during the Beatification of Bl. JP II May 2010 - the largest crowds Rome has seen.

… I couldn’t help be moved by the celebration of this man’s life. Every metro stopped invited crowds of people chanting “Sancto Subito!” to fill the train cars heading into the city. Their cheers were at every street corner. Everyone was a little Polish that day. The entire city of Rome was decorated with banners bearing his image. I was there for the vigil too, among the crowds singing, dancing and preparing for a sleepless night in the streets. But I didn’t stay because I felt like a party-crasher. I was the person who shows up at a party and has no idea who is the host.

But that’s ok though. He may not have been my Pope, but I still deeply admire and revere him. I am astonished at all the lives he touched and those he moved to conversion, and whether I know him well or not, that alone is cause for joy at his memory.

Thank you, Bl. John Paul II, for restoring the faith of my family.

About Katrina Fernandez

Mackerel Snapping Papist

  • Diapeepees

    Wow, to hear that so many showed up for RCIA following the pope’s death is indeed miraculous. Those are the beautiful stories that surround his death. I, for one, remember going to church in the moments after his death, and so many were also there streaming in. It was a powerful moment. And, that funeral Mass! Beautiful. With Pope Benedict at the helm speaking so memorably. 

  • Lydia

    I cried for days when JPII died; I felt like I had lost a dear friend who loved me. The effect he had on so many was remarkable, even those who don’t practise their faith.

  • Andrew Kosmowski

    Dear Kat,

    I think we are given popes at the time for the time.  JPII was needed to assist in the demise of communism and to awaken us to the evils  of abortion and euthansia.  BXVI is needed to renew us as a Church.

  • Rob Wardle

    I really understand what you mean. Blessed John Paul II was “my” pope. I was 23 when he was elected an 50 when he died. I was priveleged to see him in person at three World Youth Days and at a Papal Audience. In 1993, in Denver, the youth chanted “John Paul II – We love you”.  When the crowd finally quieted, His Holiness said to the young people, “John Paul II – He loves you!”  10 more minutes of wild cheering.  Between then and 2002 in Toronto, I watched in person as his health failed. Even then, his love and spirirt never waned.

    With that, I was convinced I would never love a pope as much again.  Pope Benedict has proven me wrong.  The love is different but just as real. I hope to see him in person as well one day.

  • Raphael

    The passing of John Paul II and the election of his successor are definitely what brought me back into the Church, which I had left as a teenager. My wife, who wasn’t Catholic and had no interest in becoming Catholic, wept when she heard of his death, and followed the election very closely (on NPR, of all places). Then I had this dream about going to confession with Benedict XVI; it later turned out to have been Pentecost, although I didn’t know it then. One year later were were both practicing Catholics. There was this traveling papal exhibit that came through San Antonio at the time, and we went to go see it. At the end was a bronze cast of John Paul’s hand. I know it sounds corny but it was very moving to me to grasp it…I really felt that his prayers were what had brought us home…

  • Katrina Fernandez

    Thank you all for your replies sharing your stories relating to how JPII touched you. I am still amazed by the impact he had on so many. 

  • Ron

    His writings helped me become a Catholic. He sort of melted my arguments against the Church away. I have two dear friends who got to meet him. Yes I’m envious…but in a good way :-)

  • Michael

    I’ve had a number of Popes in my life, and each has had his influence in my life:
    1. Pius XII – The Pope of my birth & Baptism
    2. Blessed John XXIII – Pope of my pre-school years & teed up Vat-II. I remember listing to his passing  on the radio (we were at Craters of the Moon Monument in Idaho).
    3. Paul VI – Pope of my pre-college years. Probobably the greatest of the bunch but will be the least recognized. The true pope of Vat-II in more ways than 1. I was prepping to return to my sophmore year of collge when he passed.
    4. John Paul I – the shortest time in office, but set up the conditions which allowed the elections of his non-Italian successors. Possibly the holiest of the bunch. We gathered in the priests’ chapel of the Catholic college to hold an all night vigil as soon as we heard of his death.
    5. Blessed John Paul II - Everyone suddenly became Polish at his election. I saw him briefly as he drove by when he visited San Francisco.
    6. Benedict XVI – The most intellectual since Paul VI, but probably aslo the most difficult to get close to emotionally since Paul also, mostly because of the act he had to follow. Will be the last of the pre-Vat-II popes.

    • Katrina Fernandez

      Will be the last of the pre-Vat-II popes?

      • Michael

        The last who was ordained a priest prior to Vat-II. Vat-II ended in 1965, it’s been 47 years since then, figure the average age at ordination is 25 which would place a cleric ordained in 1965 at 72 and the retirement age for a cardinal elector is 80…

        • Katrina Fernandez


    • Rob Wardle

      We must be really close to the same age.

  • Jana Parma

    I didn’t know much about him until I listened to a fascinating audio version of the book, “John Paul the Great” by Peggy Noonan.  I found it at my library and I’ve never been so impressed by a person.  You should take a listen or read it if you have the time.  

  • Anonymous

    I love Papa Bene dearly, but JPII will always be “my” father.  I credit it to TV.  I watched the TV coverage of his visit to Mexico.  He was infirm and rode around in a wheelchair with a tray in front.  They wheeled him into the Basilica of Guadalupe and showed him watching the introductory “Aztec liturgial dancing” and whatnot.  Then Mass began and he began to sag little by little over the tray (guess it was to help him stay put).  When the Gospel was being read, he looked up and the camera angle was perfect to see him face-on.  There was a light shining out of him through his eyes … I am not talking about a lighting effect or whatnot, but the light of his soul showed in his bright sharp alert eyes, even as his body drooped and sagged around him.  I will never forget that moment that showed me what a living saint looks like.  Since then I have read a little of his writings, but what comes back time and again is that glimpse of Heaven in the suffering saint’s eyes.