My husband Ed and I are recently arrived home from a wonderful vacation. Before we left for it, I asked the Lord to help me "see" Rome, and to show me what He wanted me to experience while we were in this beautiful Eternal city. This was always a dream trip for me, and now finally getting the chance to make it, I wondered if I would be able to sense its beauty. God more than answered my prayer in ways I could have never imagined! It turned out to be more than a vacation or even second honeymoon for us. It became a pilgrimage.
It will take more than one column to try to express all that I felt the Holy Spirit showed me. For now, I will just concentrate on what I experienced and felt during the beatification of John Paul II on that beautiful May day. It was certainly a Catholic event, but what surprised me was how many non-Catholics showed respect for the faith of this man.
Our trip was timed for the beatification of John Paul II on May 1, Divine Mercy Sunday. Ed and I got up very early to go to the Vatican, but even if we had arrived there many hours earlier, it would already have been too late to get into St. Peter's Square. Ed saw a big screen set up, and tried to get to it from behind a large truck. We got stuck, but it was meant to be. Those in that little area squeezed in with us became a universal congregation, all there for the same purpose united by our faith in God, and joining in prayer even though we were from many parts of the globe, and spoke in different tongues.
We met others from Ireland, London, Spain, the Philippines, Poland, Germany, Canada, India, and so on. We were a group of approximately 50 people in our own little "Chapel," out of an estimated 1.5 to 2 million!
We could hear everything, and had a place to sit, on large steps behind a wall. We became a "universal faith community," communicating the best we could in the language of faith—praying together, and promising to pray for each other. It was such an incredible experience to just be there for this once-in-a-life-time celebration. Walking back to our hotel afterwards, Ed said that he attended the Mass the way I always do—by hearing, not by sight. That surprised and touched me, that he thought of that. In a way, all of us in our little "chapel behind the truck" were all equal in that way. It reminded me of the verse, "For we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor 5:7).
Ed had set up our TV to record the Mass from St. Peter's Square before we left, and we were able to watch what we heard that incredible day—with English translations—when we came home. Several points from Benedict XVI's Homily stood out to me. He spoke of how six years earlier at Bl. John Paul's funeral in that same Square, "even then we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity." I also loved this: "So, God is but one, and one too is Christ the Lord, who like a bridge joins Earth to Heaven."
The Gospel reading on May 1 was, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe" (Jn 20:29). In today's Gospel, Jesus proclaims this beatitude: the beatitude of faith. John Paul II is blessed because of his faith; a strong, generous, and apostolic faith." Even so, his cause for beatification had to go through the same strict and exhaustive examination for all souls of extraordinary faith to be declared blessed in the Church. No one, not even the Pope, is without sin. It is Christ who saves all who come to Him in repentance and humility, and then follow Him; some do this in heroic ways. If it were necessary to be perfect to become a Saint, then Paul and Peter would never have been given that title!
John Paul II exhorted during his first solemn Mass in St. Peter's Square (Oct. 1979) in the unforgettable words, "Do not be afraid! Open, open wide the doors to Christ!" What the newly-elected Pope asked of everyone he was himself the first to do: society, culture, political and economic systems he opened up to Christ turning back with the strength of a Titan—a strength which came to him from God—a tide which appeared irreversible.
By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the church, to speak of the Gospel. In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because "the truth is the guarantee of liberty."
I conclude with another excerpt from Benedict XVI's homily, said so well:
His example of prayer continually impressed, and edified me: he remained deeply united to God even amid the many demands of his ministry. Then too, there was his witness in suffering: the Lord gradually stripped him of everything, yet he remained ever a "rock", as Christ desired. His profound humility, was grounded in close union with Christ, enabled him to continue to lead the Church and to give to the world a message which became all the more eloquent as his physical strength declined.
Blessed John Paul II lived an example of what Jesus told His followers in Matthew 24-25. "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."