Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Ciao, Roma!

Nearly nine years ago I was standing along a chain fence with hundreds of thousands of young people on a hot July day in Toronto. An indescribable level of excitement and nervous expectation filled the square. When helicopters were heard circling above us, the anticipation became nearly unbearable. Months before, when I had signed up for my first World Youth Day gathering, nearly everyone predicted that Pope John Paul II would be unable to attend. Most suspected he would no longer be alive. Yet, despite all the naysayers, I was convinced that I would see him.

On July 25, 2002, I knew instinctively which helicopter carried the Holy Father. Minutes later, he was a matter of feet away from me in the white popemobile, bravely striving to keep his head lifted, making eye contact and smiling.

Even nine years later, I can’t help but rejoice at what a gift it was to be so close to the Holy Father. My time at John Paul II’s final World Youth Day, a regular gathering he began in 1985, allowed me to hear his challenges to the youth and to experience with my own eyes, ears and heart that the Holy Father was truly a man who loved and cared for his people.

Throughout the week in Toronto, I heard John Paul II speak, as if he were speaking directly to me. I felt called to serve, and I knew that this service would someday, somehow, somewhere include the strong influence of this 82-year-old man in white who loved Jesus Christ so deeply that his love poured forth to the young people present.

In the past nine years I have seen John Paul II's strong influence in my life in my educational and career choices. I have felt his prayers for me since his death in 2005. I continue to learn from his writings and from his personal witness.

And today, I head onto a plane, arriving in Rome early in the morning on Thursday. On Sunday morning -- 10 am Rome time -- when we can officially add "Blessed" before the late Holy Father's name, I will be there.

Why am I going? I suppose in some ways it is to thank John Paul for the countless ways he has been a blessing in my life. It's also to celebrate his legacy. And it is a tremendous honor to stand with a million others in St. Peter's Square (I hope I can make it in the square!) during the moment when the Church officially recognizes the sanctity of John Paul II, and to say, "Amen!" And then to look around and see hundreds of thousands of others whose lives were profoundly impacted by John Paul, even though most of them never met him.

You can expect a full report on the blog when I return. In the mean time, I have scheduled blog posts to appear while I am in the Eternal City. I will pray for all of your intentions. Please pray for a safe and blessed trip for me.


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