As the world begins to turn its attention to Rome for the beatification of Pope John Paul II this Sunday, I wish to share a few of my own memories of this “Great” Pope and holy man.
After a two year tour of college seminary and graduation in 1986, I decided I did not want to pursue priesthood, but wanted to work for the Church. Two weeks after graduation from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, I travelled to Washington, D.C. for an interview with the U.S. Bishop’s Conference. They were in the initial preparations for the 1987 Papal Visit of Pope John Paul II.
Even though the visit was still very “tentative”, I was hired as the Assistant National Coordinator for this ten day – ten city tour of the U.S.
In November of 1986, we were invited to join the Australia visit of Pope John Paul II so we could get an up close and personal experience of the size of the job before us. This was to be my first of several opportunities to meet the Pope. Just before Mass in Melbourne, I was present outside the make-shift sacristy to meet him. Even though the encounter was brief, it was similar to the numerous other personal meetings. His penetrating eyes and presence spoke of the deep, personal spiritual life that marked his life and ministry.
The next several months were an amazing experience of seeing the Church on a far bigger scale than ever before imaginable. There were a couple trips to Rome for meetings and many trips around the country to the cities we were to visit. My primary duties in those days were first, to do whatever “Fr. Bob Lynch” (now Bishop Lynch) told me to do, as he was the main coordinator. Other than that, I worked as a liaison with the Secret Service, primarily credentialing the press that were to cover this big event. It was mostly a lot of logistics, from ground and air transportation, to helping design the many press pools for each venue, to helping the local coordinators meet their many challenges.
Then, during the Visit itself, I travelled with a Secret Service agent ahead of the motorcade to the next stop of the day, making sure all was ready for the Pope’s arrival. As such, I was always present for each of his arrivals. To say these generated great excitement and enthusiasm would be an understatement. My favorite moments were when he would arrive in a new city and make a visit to the local Cathedral and Archbishop/Bishop. He would always go to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel to make a brief visit. To see him in the midst of all this enthusiasm and excitement “tune it all out” and enter that sacred moment we call “prayer” was always so impressive, and obviously, one of the hallmarks of his life and ministry.
More memories later this week.1