Wednesday, Oct 19
Pope John Paul II was canonized on April 27, 2014. When I pause and think about the many times I was blessed to be in his presence during his papacy, it takes my breath away, really. My memories of St. John Paul are like family memories. In October, 1979, Pope John Paul II came to Philadelphia. I was just eighteen months old, so when my mom ventured into the city with a couple of my siblings and their friends to stand on the Parkway for Mass, I was at home with our neighbor. This Papal visit, his first to the United States, was the beginning of a long relationship between American Catholics and JPII. My parents shared their love for the Holy Father with me, and so when we first heard that he was celebrating World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado, my parents didn’t hesitate to put me on a bus, alone, at the age of sixteen. I didn’t know a single soul on that bus, but the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal accompanied us on our three day journey, one friar on each of the fourteen buses that left from Franciscan University. I became fast friends with Br. Terry, and even attended his ordination by Cardinal O’Conner at St. Patrick’s Cathedral just a few years later. We drove from Eastern Ohio, across Indiana, first stopping at Belleville, Illinois at the Shrine of Our Lady of Snows. We drove through Missouri to Wichita, Kansas for a candlelight youth rally. Then, Denver. We slept on cots in a catholic school gym and ventured out to the city center each day for daily Mass, catechesis, concerts, and prayer services. The anticipation built as we awaited the vigil, camping out at Cherry Creek State Park, spending the evening with JPII. I fell in love with him that night. I’m serious. It was a love that a grandchild feels for their grandfather. I believed that he came all the way to Denver to show us the love of Christ, so reveal to us the beauty of the catholic faith. His mere presence moved me to tears, and now that he’s gone, when I think about my experience there in that State Park, I get emotional. I have a lump in my throat at the reality of his absence. Yet I feel his presence in such a palpable way, even more than my encounters with him, whenever I pray for his intercession.
From top left, the memory books from World Youth Day Denver, 1992 and Paris, 1997. Under that, the commemorative edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, kept all these years and given to me by my parents, and the iconic Time magazine that was published just after his first visit to The States. The four magazines on the right were all published just after JPII passed from this earthly life. These are all such treasures to me.
Just as my parents handed on to me a love and respect not just for Pope John Paul II, but for the Papacy itself, we try to do the same with our children. I want our kids to get to know him and love him. I don’t know that it will ever be the same relationship as mine. Each one of us who were blessed to be in his presence over the twenty-seven years of his papacy could claim the same closeness, I think. When you had an encounter with JPII, whether you were at the back of the crowd, or in the front seat at a Papal Audience at Castel Gondolfo, you were encountering Christ Himself. I pray that our children will experience Christ in this familiar way, specifically through an encounter with a pope. It is such a uniquely catholic experience, one that makes you know, you are part of a family, and he is our Holy Father, leading his sheep to Our Father in Heaven.
One simple way I try to instill knowledge of St. John Paul in my children is by reading books to them, and offering them books to read themselves. I think all of these books on my list are excellent, so I can’t really advise you to order any one of them over the other. However, the first one is the most appropriate for little ones. The comic books are obviously for older children, I’d say nine and up. The Feast of St. John Paul is October 22nd! If you have Prime, you have time! Just click on the image of each book below to see the listings on Amazon.
I hope and pray that you and yours do something to remember our beloved JPII this coming feast day. He is a powerful intercessor, this we know!
Pope Saint John Paul II, pray for us all!