Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Night John Paul II Died

It was a cold night filled with hope and worry. The Pope's health had taken a grave turn. He wasn’t going to Gemelli, his spokesman was nearly in tears at a press conference, all signs pointed that the end was near. Sorrow and confusion filled my head and I saw it in the eyes of my friends. What would the world be like without John Paul II? It boggled the mind. He was such a grace on this earth that I had accepted into my life and relied upon.

Old and dear friends from home happened to be in town and I felt caught between the joy of having loved ones near and the sorrow of a loved one departing. We had gone to Piazza S. Pietro the night before and prayed the rosary, spiritually uniting ourselves with the thousands who were to drift in and out that night. This night we decided to go to the Vigil mass at Santa Maria in Trastevere. The beautiful liturgy at the first church dedicated to Our Lady in the world was indeed a peaceful comfort. The golden array and ancient architecture echoed John Paul II's motto “totus tuus” (all yours). “I am completely yours, O Mary.”

The mass ended and we headed into the dimly lit and vivacious streets of Trastevere. At Pizzeria San Calisto we sat down for pizza. As we said grace before the meal we added a Hail Mary at the end for our Holy Father and upon reflection it must have been a little after 9:30. Pope John Paul II left this world at 9:37.

We discovered that he had died as we exited the pizzeria, seeing on the television a picture of the pope and the words “È morto” (He is dead). We immediately headed to Piazza S. Pietro, where solemn and hollow bells resonated in the hearts of thousands of people in prayer. We entered the piazza as the Regina Coeli came to a close. Everyone was there, every nation, every state in life was represented. Tears were a common sight. Some people held vigil with candles and blankets, others spoke on cell phones to loved ones, some knelt or stood in prayer, while others just walked about. What a contrast, I thought, to what the piazza was like when he was still alive. When he would come to the window, those in the piazza where drawn to him like a magnet. Everyone was looking in the same direction, there was a leader—visible head of Christ’s church—and it filled the piazza with joy and excitement. How we had lost a father! Now the piazza was filled with a directionless mass, united in sorrow.

We remained in Piazza S. Pietro for a few hours, praying, and speaking with friends whom we bumped into. A choir and priests came to the front of the basilica and a cardinal lead the liturgy of the word for Divine Mercy Sunday. The piazza remained open all night.

In my head this question kept beating: “What will we do with out him, what we will do without him?” The answer came as my thoughts turned to him: every time I had seen him, met him (I had touched his hand and kissed his ring twice), heard him speak, and there I found the answer: we must become “John Paul II”s. He has been telling us since the beginning, “Do not be afraid! Open the doors wide to Christ!”

At the 25th Anniversary Celebration of his Pontificate, he said that his mission had been to be Christ to everyone he met and everywhere he went. How he had fulfilled that mission! We are to become “JPII”s. We are to pick up our cross, charge into the millennium, with no fear, knowing that Our Mother is near us and always trusting in God’s Divine Mercy. We are to become “JPII”s. We are to become saints.