Sunday, May 1, 2011
John Paul the Great, Pray for us!
My experience with the John Paul II as the Holy Father was a little different than others. I don’t have pictures of being blessed by this very holy man, but I have wonderful memories. I have heard that the true desire of any Saint is to bring us closer to Christ. They do not seek personal devotion but devotion of our Lord. This is what I was blessed to receive from our Holy Father. I have been raised Catholic my entire life, baptized at a few weeks of age. I attended Catholic grade school and high school. I really took it all for granted. I remember the election of JP and then a few days later JPII. It was one of the only times we were allowed to watch TV in school. I remember the church ringing the bells for a long time when it was announced that a new Pope had been elected. I remember thinking that I would have chosen another name. John Paul had not worked to well for the first guy. I mean he died so soon. I was worried that this second guy would die also.
Fast forward a few years. . . JPII did a youth rally that was televised between 4 cities. In St. Louis I was chosen to be one of the representatives from my parish to sit in on this huge teleconference. So I wasn’t actually in his presence but by satellite I was close. I really felt called to be faithful to the church. It was moving in a general sort of way.
Fast forward again. . . It was now 1998. I had 4 beautiful children and had just had a miscarriage. My husband and I talked about going to Rome. We contemplated being involved in the Holy Door stuff for the year jubilee 2000. We had gone so far as to get sitters and start learning Italian. We had planned to stay 2-3 weeks and work as volunteers to help other pilgrims. Our dear friend Fr. Tom Keller had expressed interest in going as well. I discovered that I was pregnant again so without explaining Jason and I backed out. Fr. Tom didn’t seam upset or even question why. He just said he wasn’t going either and not to worry. We would get to see the Holy Father.
As it turned out JPII was planning a visit to St. Louis in Jan of 1999. Fr. Tom was made head Sacristan for the Papal Mass. His committee consisted of himself, one priest and one religious brother, 6 teenagers, my husband Jason and me. We worked for months to prepare for one Mass. Fr. Tom worked so hard. He always kept my kids in the loop. When he acquired the vessels for the Mass and the Monstrance for a chapel he would bring them by the house. These were ones that had been held by St. Philippine Duchesne and others of such high esteem. The Chalice the Holy Father used during the Mass had also been the one used in 1698 during the first Mass in St. Louis, back when it was just wilderness. Fr. Tom let the children reverently touch the vessels and lovingly pointed out to them that it was true that some were considered extra special because they had been held by a saint or two. He also pointed out why they were truly special. Our Lord had come to be in each of those vessels during various Masses. That simple little gesture with a loving comment from a holy priest instilled in all of our hearts a true knowledge of Christ in the Eucharist.
A few days before the visit, Jason and I bid our children goodbye and headed to the TWA dome to begin preparing for the Mass. Fr. Tom had set us up well. We had very specific jobs to do and had to be ready for anything. I have NEVER worked so hard in all of my life. I was 7 months pregnant and had just gotten over a bought with shingles. My body was sore but it wasn’t going to stop me.
One of my duties was to lay out hundreds of vestments for the bishops from around the United States and then prepare another room with 20 or so Cardinal/priestly dignitary vestments. There were over 1000 concelebrants for this Mass. There were 107,000 people at the Mass. We transformed a common convention room into a beautiful Adoration Chapel. It was then opened and filled with people constantly. The only way humans could have worked so hard and not run into trouble would be with the help of God. We transformed a garage room that held lawn mowers into a room for the Holy Father to prepare for the Mass. We worked hard and slept little!!!
Fr. Tom, the priests, and young kids all left to attend the Youth Rally. Jason and I were left behind. We worked till everything hurt and then had to keep working. My husband, along with Fr. Tom and the other priest were the only three people in St. Louis other than the Arch-Bishop, his people, the Pope and his people that had total security clearance. He had been checked by the FBI and the secret service weeks before hand. He was then put in charge of the Pope’s belongings. After the Youth Rally was over The Holy Father’s vestments and chair (designed to withhold a bomb blast) were brought to the dome by secured vehicles. Jason and I got to unload it. We also got to touch it, sit in it and move it into place. It was the one item that we could actually place on the Alter before the Mass started without the union workers. Every other chair, rug, or backdrop could not be touched by us because of contract issues with the union.
The morning of the Mass came. We were exhausted but exhilarated. We went to work right away. Jason and Fr. Tom put the vessels on the Alter. Fr. Bede stayed to put the finishing touches on the room for the Holy Father. He was also there to assist in any way. We heard many scary things over our radios until he arrived. The radios went dead right before the Holy Father arrived. This was a security thing.
Even with all the distractions I knew the second the Holy Father entered the building. We all did. You really could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was “A Calm and A Peace” that made everything still. My heart jumped for joy. It really is the strangest thing to describe but it was so palpable. 30 seconds later the radios began ringing again, “One of the teenagers was yelling over and over again, “He is here! He is here!” I had just sent this young guy upstairs with instructions to come back as soon as the Consecration began. He knew that I was still trapped in a room without a TV screen. I was lining up the Cardinals for the procession into mass.
Mass started and I went to a seat that Fr. Tom had saved for me. My daughter Dani was to make her first communion that year. Fr. Tom got her and my mom seats. As I listened to the homily I fell in love with my faith once again. Then I was off again. My job was to oversee the collection of the 300 + ciboria and chalices from the Mass. I had to make sure everyone was accounted for. There was a high fear that some might be stolen as souvenirs. Our Lord was not to be mistreated. Everyone had to receive on the tongue and we had people placed everywhere to make sure no abuse came about. I would assist in the transportation of our Lord to the room next to the chapel. I was met by the local seminarians who were then responsible to move our Lord into as few ciboria as necessary and clean the rest. This meant a lot of water and a lot of bending. I was the only woman and only non-seminarian (Except the priest who was in charge of the seminarians). I was there to serve them.
I had had a gun drawn on me earlier by the secret service. He was afraid that the baby was a bomb. Everything was OK, it was just annoying. As I collected the clean ciborium I began to feel a little jaded. I had worked so hard and I had not gotten to see the JPII but for a few minutes and from a great distance at that. In a very human moment I began to resent my husband. I was Fr. Tom’s friend first and yet he got to be within touching distance of the Holy Father and I was stuck in this small room not even able to see what was going on. I was being so silly, but very human. I was in a room surrounded by future priests and Our LORD. God was so good to me as he gently pointed this out to me.
As I felt sorry for myself I got on my knees to collect the ciborium from the bottom of the cart. They all had a few hosts in them. I have never been that tired, that sore and that drained. Childbirth had been nothing compared to the past few days. I reached over to grab a dish and by God’s grace was completely overcome with the true presence of Christ. The tears began to flow and flow and flow. This is a feeling that can not be described well. My entire body was filled with joy and love. I really couldn't think anything but GOD. The Priest in charge of the seminarians looked down and became very concerned. Here a pregnant woman was crying on the ground. I can only imagine the fear that went through his mind, “A baby, not now!”
I looked up at him as I handed him a stack of ciboria and I cried, “My God!” His eyes became tense as he questioned, “Are you in pain?” My replied comforted him, “No, This IS My GOD !!! ” He smiled and said lovingly, “Oh a God moment, we get those all the time.”
The Holy Father’s visit was wonderful. I didn’t get to see him up close, hear much of what he said or get a papal blessing for my baby. I didn’t get top security clearance to go where I wanted. I worked harder than I ever had in my life. I had a gun drawn to my head. I had been patted down for weapons and accused of being a suicide bomber. I was in pain all over my body. That big personal moment that I had hoped for with John Paul II never happened. Instead because of JPII, I had that special big personal moment with our Lord.
I later told Fr. Tom. He laughed at me. He knew what he was doing all along. He said, “I put Jason in charge taking care of the Pope and you got the better job. You got to be in charge of taking care of our Lord!” Recollections of that moment still bring me to tears. Isn’t that the mark of a true saint? The glory is not for the human individual but the glory is for our Lord. I thank John Paul II most sincerely for that moment with God!