I am one of the many millions of people eager to attend the beatification of John Paul II. The beatification granted him by the Church is simply an affirmation of what we have seen in this pope as we were growing. John Paul II goes out of Rome and meets with each and every one of us in our respective countries. We have heard so much of the holiness of the popes but we have seen and witness what holiness is all about through him.
My early recollection of John Paul II was in a live TV coverage when he visited Bacolod City, my home province. I was 34 kms. away from that celebration but the most vivid memory of him was when the emcee of the mass invited those among present and those watching in the television who have religious articles to be blessed, to prepare them for the blessing of the Pope. And I on my part, went to our family altar, grab pieces of rosaries and literally placed them near the TV screen while the Pope blessed them.
But my most unforgettable firsthand experience of him was during the 1995 World Youth Day held here in Manila. I was then a very young Salesian. My profound experience was not during the days of the WYD but on my way home. From the Luneta Grandstand (central Park in Manila), our seminary bus was parked in Don Bosco School, Makati. And during that moment where 5 million people gathered, there’s no way to ride a public transport but to walk. And so, I and my Salesian confreres were walking dead tired after releasing so much adrenalin to the grand concluding mass of the pope, passing by the nearest routes going to the direction of Makati. We know that roads there were blocked and by no means even private vehicles would have access. But while walking tired, with heads bowed to protect our face from the heat of the sun, all of a sudden, I saw a shadow of a passing vehicle from the overpass, and guess what, it was the pope mobile! Then in unison we were greeting the pope, he gazed at our direction, waved, and that’s enough to remove the tiredness from our bodies. Holiness heals. We were so inspired to retell that great experience.
That was the last time I saw personally John Paul II.
The next years was very encouraging for me, seeing the Pope so weakened by his Parkinson’s disease, he never stopped proclaiming the Word and witnessing to the Word even though many critics would say that he should stop, that the Church has no more leadership, and that he should give his post to others. And also, somewhere around the world old people and sick people are being euthanized because of the apparent uselessness of the person. The Pope never said anything (about the critics)…he showed them.
What would have happened to the world if he was not our Pope at the very crucial turning points in history? God knows whom to give us at the right time.
The millions of people at St. Peter’s square during the beatification, and the million others watching and following the whole ceremonies in their screens, are not curios viewers but mostly were touched by the divine presence of God through this holy man – he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and that we all felt. This generation have witness two (probably many but not as popular) great persons whom we have seen in our lifetime – Mother Theresa of Calcutta and John Paul II. We grew together with them. We love them. And now, they are in the very presence of the ever living God. Indeed, our hearts will be restless until it rests in God.
I seldom love people whom I do not really know or shall I say a person whom I cannot speak with personally, have the privilege to physically in touch with and feel, share stories with, eat and enjoy moments of time and many other things. But I can say, John Paul II indeed is a friend of all. I guess that’s one of his greatness, he let us feel that all of us are his friends, that all of us are close to him. That’s why when he speaks, we listen to him (as a friend more than a pope or authority in the Church), whenever he visits, we long for his presence, and when he died, we felt very much his loss. Now our friend is “back to life” and he is more present than ever together with Jesus, our God whom he served. He is a “Blessed”, an assurance that he is heaven ready to ever listen to us and wanting to do more than a pope in his lifetime.
We are still in the Easter season of the liturgical calendar. And Easter is all about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and also his ascension into heaven. He lives eternally with us. The celebration of the beatification of John Paul II is very much a modern scene of the resurrection and ascension. When Jesus died, we were all sad and some, lost. But when he was resurrected, our spirits were also resurrected with him. And when he ascended into heaven, we are assured that he is ever looking upon us day after day in eternity.
John Paul II died six years ago, we felt his absence, and we were even anxious what will happen next to the Church or even to the world. Then the news came that God has granted a miraculous healing, through his intercession, of a French nun of her Parkinson’s disease, and that the Vatican approved of his beatification. All of a sudden, the social networking sites and almost all major news websites broadcasted around the world of this great news which was converted into great joy and expectation! Our spirits soared, he is back in our midst, and he has never forgotten.
Then, a multitude of believers and probably curios spectators gathered in the Vatican to witness his ascension into the glorious place among the blessed and saints in heaven. And we heard the message again, “DO NOT BE AFRAID!”
If you in your television screens felt the glorious event, I can assure you it was a heavenly experience at St. Peter’s square. The applause, especially after he was declared Blessed and also when his relics (contained in a vial place in a reliquary) was presented to Pope Benedict XVI, was resounding and it will continue for so long a time not until the next part of the liturgy must go on that we were forced to stop. The immense joy felt by everyone filled the whole world. I then realized and experienced pure joy once again. When a person wins gold in the Olympics, only his country mates rejoices. But when a friend enters eternity with God, the whole world rejoices with him; I am so happy that the value of holiness is still sought for.
Blessed John Paul II could be patron for so many…patron for the active youth, patron for democracy, patron the sick and aged, patron for advocacies or can even be patron for photogenic (as some press people would suggest). But for me, he is a friend of all.