Our Tribute To Pope Saint John Paul II
(originally published to celebrate his beatification in May 2011)
Priest…Pope…Son of Mary…. these words describe Saint John Paul II. But how does one describe his impact on one’s soul? When one meets the Vicar of Christ and sees Peter from Galilee as well as Karol from Krakow, what has really happened? Perhaps it is that glance into the eyes of Peter that may be the most telling. Anyone who looked into the eyes of this Pope, or rather, as one of our Handmaids put it, had him ‘look through you, into you!’ gained some sense of the intensity of the presence of Christ in another person.
Priest. He was the epitome and example, par excellence in our time, of what it means to be a priest. So well did this man live his own definition of the priest as“a man for others”that he inspired countless men to consider the priesthood. Others, witnessing his absolute discipleship, were aided in recognizing their own calls to the cloister. One Handmaid felt that seeing his willingness to take on the burden of the papacy helped crystallize her own contemplative vocation to pray for priests. His magnificent inaugural homily with its resounding call to “Be Not Afraid!”gave her the courage to say “Fiat” to her calling. So much so that she requested to take as her name in religion “Sister John Paul” to pay some small homage to the man who played no little role in her coming to religious life.
Pope. Our vocation as Handmaids to pray and sacrifice for priests could not help but be strengthened seeing how he lived his vocation, especially as Pope. When we were privileged to experience face to face the weight of his office and the burden of his suffering accepted with his indestructible joy of a life given, we were humbled into bearing our own small crosses.
Son of Mary. “Totus Tuus”, like “Be Not Afraid!”, became a hallmark of John Paul II’s pontificate. He was all Mary’s. How can we not be grateful for the sincere love and devotion he had for his mother which he happily displayed at each moment from his first entrustment to her as Pope to his last “Totus Tuus” scrawled on a tablet after his tracheotomy. Our own charism as Handmaids is to imitate the first Handmaid of Our Lord echoing her “Fiat” constantly, even to Calvary. This great Pope made that easier for us as he showed us daily, and particularly in his trials and pain, how to place everything in Mary’s hands and trust completely.
From 1990 through 2002, nine Handmaids met him. At each encounter, vocations were strengthened and desires to offer our sacrifices for all priests intensified. It was impossible to meet him and not come away with fresh resolve to follow his Christlike example of carrying the Cross. He told us all in word and witness, “Coraggio!”
In 1990 Mother David Marie had an audience with him while visiting Rome to establish a Priory. Later, during our Community’s Golden Jubilee year 1997, several Handmaids enjoyed Mass in his private chapel. To their equal delight and terror, then Msgr. Dziwisz asked them to sing for the Mass. At Msgr. Dziwisz’s request they ended the Mass singing the Regina Caeli. One Sister recalled, “the sight we had longed to witness was before our eyes — our Holy Father in prayer before our Blessed Lord. The awesomeness of the privilege that was ours took greater hold as our hearts listened and watched in silence as our Holy Father vested for Mass. His oneness with Our Lord was so evident. During Mass, when he faced us, his eyes would search, landing on each of us individually at different moments.” One Handmaid, seeing the physical pain he was in that day, said, “It was like looking into the face of the suffering Christ. I thought, ‘Look what we’ve done to him!’ The burden he was bearing was very evident.” Another was also struck by the toll the office of Peter was taking on John Paul II, “No words were exchanged, but he did he did grasp my hand into his and held it for a moment, in this interchange I felt a mixture of profound joy and sorrow as he conveyed a weight of a burden which he left deeply within me.” During introductions, one Handmaid called out, “We love you!” to which he answered, “Good!” Then the novice mistress assured him the formation group sent their love and loyalty. “Good!” As he was about to leave, he turned suddenly, looked at them all and said strongly, “Coraggio!”
Closer to the end of his reign in 2002, Mother John Paul had one more audience with her father. Another blessed to meet him at that time noted the warmth and peace in his gentle handclasp followed, to her surprise, by a formal blessing, “He gasped suddenly, his arm went up and his hand landed on my head tracing out a large cross on the top of my veil. I’ll never forget that.” Later, on the Feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle, the Holy Father blessed and used a chalice and paten for use by the Handmaids. We now treasure it as a holy relic of our beloved Saint John Paul II.
Later, after our initial move to the Diocese of Knoxville, Bishop Richard F. Stika presented to our community a first class relic containing the hairs of Saint John Paul II which is kept on our oratory altar.
Thank You, Saint John Paul II
for Your Heroic Witness and Example!