As I crouched down with no more than a square foot of room, a Polish nun insisted that I take her squatting chair to have a moments reprieve from the ever tightening crowd. All were gathering to watch the Beatification of John Paul II on a – not so jumbo – Jumbo Tron.
I could only see about half of the screen, since the crowd was packed in like a bunch of sardines, only broken up by the occasional lamp post, building, or vehicle.
We had been up and out by 5 a.m. that morning to get to St. Peter’s Square. The closest we could get was about a half mile away from the Vatican since St. Peter’s Square was already stuffed with almost one million people in a space made for 300,000. It was busier than any World Youth Day I have ever been to, and half as organized. But nothing could dampen the spirits of the two million pilgrims.
Mass began at 10 a.m. and loud cheers swept over the crowd. There was a lot of flag waving (mostly polish), and much clapping. If the pilgrims had an edge of an imaginary seat, they were on it. Everyone was rejoicing in the beauty that was taking place.
Cardinal Vallini who served as the highest judicial authority in the Church during John Paul’s pontificate, formally asked to proceed with the Beatification of John Paul II, and then read a brief biography of his life. Other honored participants were Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, who was cured of Parkinson’s disease through the intercession of Blessed John Paul. She presented the relic of John Paul’s blood, taken days before his death. Also participating were Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, who had been Pope John Paul’s personal secretary, and Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who had been the communications director of the Holy See and was close to John Paul II.
At the end of the Mass, Pope Benedict said, “The longed-for day has come. It came quickly because this was pleasing to the Lord. John Paul II is blessed.” More cheers and chants broke out. Others stood silent, stunned by the beauty and reality that JP II is one step closer to sainthood.
As the reality of the events leading up to, during, and now after the Beatification of John Paul II are still unraveling and being revealed within my heart, I can’t help but note the effects it has on my own soul.
I knew as soon as this Beatification was announced I couldn’t miss it. The opportunity to witness one of the great Saints of our time become blessed was something of a lifetime achievement. The beauty of Pope Benedict helping him become blessed was multifaceted. Not only were they close friends, but after the pontificate that John Paul II led, how could anyone fill those shoes? The straight answer, no one.
The beauty is that Benedict never tried to. His effort has been to highlight John Paul’s life and mission and give honor to the reality of his sainthood. By doing this, Benedict has given joy to the millions who were moved and touched by John Paul’s life and work.
In high school I always felt like sainthood was unachievable. I felt that greatness was reserved for the few and rare. But becoming a saint doesn’t seem so impossible when you see the example of someone who lived their life in faith, humility, sacrifice, passion, and in the selfless service of others. It’s inspirational. It’s marvelous. It’s living our Catholic faith fully.
At times the future of our people and our Church can seem dismal. For me, seeing the faith journey of millions of Catholics and non-Catholics alike to events like the Beatification, to World Youth Day, and on personal pilgrimages speaks volumes to the strength of the future church, and the church of today. It shows the power of intersession that our modern day Saints have, such as Blessed Mother Teresa and now Blessed John Paul II. This experience has truly reaffirmed me in the life of faith that I choose and truly love to live. But most of all, it makes me proud to profess that I am a Catholic.