This weekend we get to witness history with the canonization of Popes John XXIII and Pope John Paul II.
I don’t have much of anything to contribute on Pope John (a little before my time) but Pope John Paul is a huge figure in my life. He was the Pope when I was discerning my Vocation to the Priesthood, and he was the Pope the six years I lived in Rome. Given my job working for the Cardinal here in Baltimore I had the privilege to be in his presence many times, including Mass in his private chapel. And of course, when he visited Baltimore in 1995 I was very involved in that event, and ended up spending the whole day with him and his entourage.
There are many, many stories I could share from all those occasions. Here are two, both from behind the scenes.
The schedule called for a rest period after lunch, which would be taken in the Cardinal’s Residence. In doing the advance work his handlers noted that there was a small chapel that the Pope would have to pass and that would be a problem, because he always stopped and prayed at any chapel he encountered and that could throw off the schedule. They asked that the door be kept closed, which it was, thereby making it simply one door among many doors in a long corridor. However, as the Pope passed by that door he stopped, looked at it, looked back at his handlers, wagged his finger and shook his head, and proceeded into the chapel for prayer (and yes, it did damage to the schedule that day).
A part of the Residence that day was reserved for the Pope and his entourage to rest, and as part of the preparations, we had arranged a cold buffet in the suite, should they want snacks or refreshment. After the party had entered the suite, the rest of us waited outside. Several minutes later, the Pope’s priest secretary, Msgr. Dziwisz, appeared at the door and called me over. I assumed something was wrong or missing. Here’s what he said: “Michael, the Holy Father wants me to ask you a question; that food in there, is that for us?”
Humor, humility, courage, strength, grace, goodness, perhaps the greatest intellectual of our time, world class linguist, the list of his attributes could go on and on from what I know of the man. But I also believe he was a prophet.
Just over 20 years ago World Youth Day was held in Denver (I was lucky enough to be there). Everyone expected it to bomb. It didn’t, in fact it was a staggering success. But what is not often appreciated is that Pope John Paul determined Denver would be the launch of what he referred to as an evangelization that is “new.” It would be a re-evangelization of America (where he believed it would begin) and subsequently, the World. I am happy to have been a priest and pastor under such a great Pope, but happier still to continue to serve his vision in service to the New Evangelization.