Saturday, May 7, 2011

Part III: Beato Giovanni Paolo II

I think I squealed with joy when it fully hit me that I had made it to St. Peter’s for the Basilica. Yes, before I made it back to where I was staying I had been standing for 14 straight hours and went without a bathroom for 18 hours. Yes, I was achy and tired. But I was so close to Pope Benedict XVI in the moment when he declared that Papa John Paul will forever have a “Blessed” in front of his name. And I was there to witness it, to share the joy of it, to sing “Amen” to it, and to carry the intentions of family and friends to it.

While we hugged the barricade, still thinking that the Holy Father would go past us, police and volunteers came to those around us and told them they had to move. But for the hour or so that they approached those next to us – even shoulder-to-shoulder with us, they never told us that we had to leave. Chuckling and mystified, we began to wonder if we were invisible. And I turned to my American friend in Rome and said that John Paul was clearly taking care of us.

But our invisibility changed quickly when we were approached by a journalist who requested an interview. He arranged for us to stand on the other side of the barricade and began asking various questions about John Paul II, all being filmed for an Italian news service. He hadn’t even walked away when another journalist approached – this one from Catholic News Agency – requesting another interview. And so more JPII questions began, all being filmed.

But this wasn’t the end. During the entire beatification Mass, one camera or another would frequently be zoomed in on me. I’m not sure why. At one point there were three different cameras, all pointed at my face. Perhaps I looked like a pilgrim – tired eyes, sunburned face, greasy hair, mismatched clothes, but despite it all tears on my face, expressive eyes and a smile. Whatever it was, I guess will never know if my joyful participation was reflected onto televisions in Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, the United States. Even Al Jazeera was there.

Before the beatification Mass began, the crowd sang the Divine Mercy Chaplet in several languages. There were meditations before each decade.

At 10 am, the music began, and soon Pope Benedict XVI was waving and smiling from his popemobile (which, unfortunately, did not pass by the barricade we were so firmly convinced he would). The crowd cheered as we saw the Holy Father on the jumbotron. Before Mass began, volunteers distributed prayer cards of John Paul II and beautiful books with the prayers and music of the Mass.

The actual beatification took place after the Kyrie and before the Gloria. Cardinal Vallini came to the microphone and presented John Paul II for beatification. He then proceeded to read a biography of the late Holy Father. Even though I understand minimal Italian, I was able to decipher many of the words the Cardinal was saying. And I had tears in my eyes as I heard the legacy of John Paul II. What an incredible gift to the Church and the world! His writings, his travels, his passion for families, his interest in people. The young people cheered as Cardinal Vallini mentioned John Paul’s love of youth. After all, that was why we had waited all night long to stand with one or two million others from around the world. Because John Paul had come to us.

After the reading of the biography, Pope Benedict XVI made the official announcement, declaring Blessed John Paul II and his feast day of October 22. We cheered and clapped for ten minutes. The applause wouldn’t stop. The banner of the new blessed was unveiled as the cheering continued. What a gift to the Church! And what a gift to be there, to be able to sing, “Amen” after the proclamation and to able to cheer and thank God for the gift of our newest blessed.

When the applause had subsided, the choir began the “Gloria.” Mass proceeded. Receiving Communion seemed nearly impossible, with bewildered priests unsure of which direction in which to turn next, as they found themselves surrounded by pilgrims wishing to receive the Eucharist. Communion was distributed solely on the tongue.

The Holy Father blessed us. We all cheered. The Polish flags continued to wave. John Paul was now a blessed.

And now the chaos of leaving the Square began. Bl. John Paul II’s tomb was available for veneration inside the basilica, yet we were all herded out of the Square. Once again, I was pushed, pulled, and moved throughout the mass of humanity. A thread in my new scarf got caught in a Polish woman’s backpack and acted like a fishing rod, attaching me to her. Eventually, she was stopped by a man who saw my dilemma, and I was able to continue shuffling through the Square.

It took about two hours to return to where I was staying – there was walking and waiting and impossibly crowded bus riding, followed by more walking and the refreshment of a can of coke (complete with a straw, as this is the Italian way). I had enough time for a brief nap, before a long walk to the tram (the buses were still running irregularly, due to the crowds miles away from the beatification), which took me to the train station, which eventually brought me to the airport. I spent Sunday night at the airport, fighting to keep my eyes open after nearly 48 hours of being awake.

Monday morning found me on a plane to Brussels, then to Chicago, and finally back to Cincinnati. The last leg left me 69 hours without normal sleep (do catnaps on a plane really count?), but the sleeplessness, blisters, swollen ankles, and tired joints were worth the sacrifice, and were really part of the prayer of the trip.

And that is how I participated in the largest beatification in history. How remarkable our Catholic faith – that a man who I never met personally but who has so radically impacted my life would inspire me to travel thousands of miles and go three nights without sleep in order to be one of 1-2 million celebrating the declaration of his holiness in person! And how remarkable our Catholic faith – that I would be able to thank a man I never met who impacted me (and continues to impact me), and know that he can hear my gratitude. And I can count on his prayers.

1 comment:

  1. Emily, thank you for sharing! I'm so happy that you got to be there =) And I hope your interview makes it into a documentary some day! =)

    God bless, Bethany