Ahhh! My Karol! He was the only man my husband was ever jealous of. My hubby found Pope JP’s photos to be the only photo in my wallet, the screensaver on my phone, the display on the altar, and framed on the bedroom wall. “Why just him?” he asked quite emotionally. It necessitated a lot of explaining from my end of course! But, thankfully, I have never had difficulty in explaining anything that is deeply personal to me.
And everything about the Great Saint Pope I have always taken very personally. I have this inkling that God sent him on earth to be a shepherd specifically to me. He became Pope a year before I was born but he made a timely entrance into my life when I felt ripe for the picking. He came with answers that calmed all my questioning and directions that rerouted my lost young soul. Imagine a clueless pilgrim in an unfamiliar place relying on the ever-dependent personal tour guide for everything. That’s who he had been to me and so much more!
If I am to pick just a few from among his many teachings that are to be my favorites, I would pick his wisdom on suffering, death, and mercy. He is known to be the suffering Pope. He has verbalized his personal belief on suffering being his true calling. Him speaking about finding joy in suffering resonated to my heart so well that it left an imprint that has always been with me. More so because, he embraced his suffering right before our very eyes. He allowed the world to witness it. Through it he showed me that strength had a face when I thought it was just a word.
On death, he wrote in his last will and testament, “that everyone keep the prospect of death in mind and be ready to go before the Lord and Judge – and at the same time Redeemer and Father.” When I was younger I found the topic of death to be unspeakably difficult and disturbing. Not anymore. Now, it is something I actually look forward to in anticipation, allowing me to rest in peace while I’m still living.
I’ve understood the depth of what the Mercy of the Lord meant when he manifested it in his life. He forgave his assailant and even prayed for him. He never spoke of revenge, not even of exemplary punishment. He has not only so passionately spoken about Mercy but actually lived it. He did so with how he conducted himself after being shot; when he stood for the fall of the Berlin wall; and when he asked forgiveness from the whole world for the bitterness, pains, and sufferings caused by our early Church throughout history. I will always find that remarkable. All that led me to believe it is mercy that is to be his most enduring legacy – if not to the whole world, at the very least, to me.
He is undoubtedly important to the Church, but personally, tremendously important to my journey. It was his zeal of passing on the torch to the youth that alone has motivated me to intimately be formed and to passionately help form young leaders and to journey on with them too. I have always felt that my call to further study about the faith is solely for this purpose, so that in time I could teach it. In WYD ’95 when he said “as the Father have sent me, so am I sending you”, although there were more than a million people there, I felt like he said it specifically to me.
By his teachings and writings he has delivered his heart to me. He was, and still is, a God-given personal travelling companion. He has led me to a journey of self-discovery. He pointed me to Mother Mary, who pointed me to Christ, who then pointed me to the Eucharist. He helped me pick a path in life to grow – including people to grow with.
I remember April 2, 2005. The news of his death was greeted by a great prayerful crowd that filled not only St. Peter’s Square, but so many churches around the world, to overflowing. I felt the deep loss. It felt like the whole world were sending their condolences only to me. He is everyone’s Pope certainly, but in my alternate reality, he is just mine.
Seeing his crowd of mourners in the worldwide news telecasts has led me to wonder what it must have been like in heaven at the exact same time. While I on earth was mourning his death, I was sure they were rejoicing in heaven. My loss, their gain, it was for them the homecoming of a most beloved servant. He must have been greeted at the pearly gates by a multitude of Angels and Saints, perhaps more than the number of people who came in all of the WYDs combined. I always imagined the Saints to be exchanging high-fives in heaven. I don’t think they are as uptight and rigid as their medieval paintings present them to be. His homecoming was probably a never-ending stream of high-fives exchanged with his comrades in arms. And why not!? Every victory deserves a high-five!
I do my best in honor of those who walked the path to Jesus before me. Our footprints follow the same path on the journey to the eternal. I don’t focus on the treacherous road, but in God, who in His Mercy, makes everything alright. And when one day I finally join them, that one day will be forever. I know that just as God is, my pope is also expecting me. Although I do not know where my journey ends, I know where it leads. His photos remind me of what I know he wants for me to be steadfast about, it is to brave my way to where he now stands.