Today marks the first anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul. Last night CNN aired an excellent two-hour special which will reair tonight that reflects upon those days in April when the world's eyes were fixed on Rome.
Viewing the images and reports again stirred my emotions and has moved me to share my own experience of those events both half a world away and at the same time deeply close to my heart.
My story begins the Wednesday of Holy Week. I spent time that evening in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, pouring over Scripture to connect to each Station of the Cross on Good Friday.
I was particularly struck by the Eighth Station and Jesus' words to the women of Jerusalem in Luke's Gospel: "Do not weep for me." On the way to His death, the Lord knew that tears of sorrow betrayed the hope of His coming Resurrection.
The Triduum and Easter Sunday were beautiful. April 1, Easter Friday, I was able to reflect upon my experience of preparing the Stations of the Cross with my spiritual director, how I encountered the Suffering Christ through this devotion and Scripture.
It was only after my meeting that I learned that the Holy Father was gravely ill. With time to spare before class, I went to a computer lab to read the latest internet reports, which told of John Paul praying the Stations of the Cross as he lay on his death bed.
I kept vigil in front of the television that afternoon, though I desperately yearned to be with my brothers and sisters in that crowded piazza below his window. I slept on the couch that night, waiting. But when I woke, there was little new information, other than a few words the Holy Father had reportedly spoken: "I have looked for you; now you have come to me. And I thank you"--and the words that took my breath away--"Do not cry for me; let us pray together." He repeated the words of the Savior that had touched me during the previous week.
But I couldn't heed those words. When the announcement of his death came, I wept. It was a response I imagine that I will only experience again when my own father dies.
It was only later on, when I learned that the Holy Father did much of his work in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, that I fully understood the weight of what had happened to me. God had connected me to a man whom I'd never met through prayer--specifically the Way of the Cross--to show me the bond of His Church as the Body of Christ and the power of Love to span time, space, and even death.
It's a simple story, and I'm sure there are stories far more powerful than this. It was by no means anything miraculous, but neither was it merely coincidental. But this is how our God works, in the whispered wind of simplicity, and we usually fail to see its immense and beautiful might until it has swept past us.
There are other little details outside of this story that connect me to John Paul, and so my mind turns often to my spiritual father. I pray for him on this first anniversary of his death, and I pray that the Church will recognize him as a great saint, who as our new Pope Benedict said, blesses us from the window of the Father's house.