Today marks the second anniversary of the birth of John Paul II into eternal life. Like many in my parents' generation are wont to recall and relate where they were when they heard the news of JFK's assassination, I will always recall this day with singular clarity.
My oldest son, Simeon, displayed an affection for JPII from his earliest youth. Among his first words, Simeon identified JPII as his "Holy Papa in Rome." Wherever he saw images of the Pope, Simeon would point them out excitedly. He interjected prayers for JPII's intentions during family prayer, and with a chubby toddler hand upheld, he would show anyone who would listen how the Pope blessed his people. "The Pope does this," he would explain as he demonstrated the blessing.
Certainly you could explain much of this on account of our training. Undoubtedly, we loved this Pope and honored him and taught Simeon to do the same, but Simeon's attraction seemed to go beyond that. A sensitive soul, Simeon seemed to be responding to the magnetism of the Holy Pontiff quite on his own--apart from our instruction.
On April 2nd, 2005 I heard the news on the car radio on the way home from grocery shopping that John Paul II had died. I had not been shocked. We had all been expecting it for days, weeks, months... and now it had finally happened. The radio waves were buzzing with tributes and news pieces, speculations and interviews.
I followed it all with interest and a quiet, collected sadness. I felt a certain pride as well, hearing the secular news people report so favorably on our Holy Father and to speak-- for once-- not as though these were the beliefs of such and such a man, but as though God, Heaven and life after death were undisputed realities.
"Today, John Paul the second has passed through the gates of Heaven," one well known radio broadcaster reported. The existence of Heaven became as objectively factual as the existence of Europe or the Middle East on that day and all because this man-- this Pope-- had lived such a life that made it impossible to speak of him without acknowledging such realities.
Not wanting to miss a beat, I put the radio on as soon as I returned home. As I brought the groceries into the house I noticed Simeon, now six, had pulled up a chair and was listening to every word with great interest.
"Who are they talking about?" he asked.
"Oh, Simeon," I said gently,"Pope John Paul died today."
He looked at me with surprise. This was the first he had heard that the Pope was even unwell. He hadn't been expecting this like I had been.
"Really?" he asked as his eyes filled with tears.
"Oh Simeon," I said and embraced him. As he sobbed in my arms, I let go my own emotions and cried, too. Quite suddenly and unexpectedly, I saw my six year old son in some way as an equal. Not so much that he had grown up or that I had become very little, but we met somehow on a plane outside of time. For one beautiful moment, my son and I were a brother and sister in the Faith, comforting one another because we had lost our dearly beloved "Papa in Rome."
* * *
Here is the official Vatican retrospective for this beloved Pope.
Lovliness of John Paul II Fair