Death of a Saint
While riding the train into Rome, my friend called and told me to come to Saint Peter's Square. She had invited me to come to a conference in the city, and I was able to attend because I was already abroad, studying in Pisa for a semester. I didn't know my way around Rome or how to get to Saint Peter's, but it was no problem because everyone was going there; all I had to do was follow the crowd.
When I arrived, hundreds if not thousands were gathered, praying the Rosary while others sang and danced. My professor had mentioned that the Holy Father was ill, but since my Italian was only at a beginner's level, I didn't quite catch the severity of it. I found myself for the first time in Saint Peter's square, keeping vigil as John Paul II lay on his deathbed.
That was Friday night, and he died the following evening, the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday. Needless to say, the conference was cancelled, and we attended the memorial Mass they had on Sunday morning. The crowds hadn't arrived yet, so we were right in the front.
Starting on Monday morning, his body was lying in state in St. Peter's Basilica for veneration by the public. There were already thousands present when I got in line a little after it started at 10 a.m.; at one point, it was so packed that I could hardly turn around. Since I had to part with my friend earlier that day, I made friends in line with a priest from India and shared my duffel bag as a seat with some Missionaries of Charity. We waited about eight hours to get in to the basilica- a fraction of the twenty-four hours others waited.
As we filed down the main aisle of the basilica to the main altar where John Paul II was, the Rosary was being sung in Italian. We had to file past the body rather quickly and could not linger inside the church. However, no one wanted to leave, and even the security guards seemed a bit reluctant to do their job as they approached kneeling mourners asking them to move along.
Seeing his physical body did not make a lasting impression on me because I hardly saw it. But that didn't matter because John Paul II's spirit left me with a deep yearning. I wanted what he had because I knew it was real. There was no denying it: two million people came to Rome to pay him tribute. Two million people loved a man most of them had never met, and nothing was more clear to me than that John Paul had truly loved each one of them.
He had espoused himself to the truth, to every word that comes forth from the mouth of God, to the Word Himself. He followed Christ to the end- not just faithful until his death, but faithful in every day, every moment of his life. John Paul II gave himself up for the life of the world, and thus gave authentic witness to the Christian life; he was another Christ. I didn't have a relationship with Jesus at the time so I couldn't put my finger on it, but now I see the burning in my soul was for the One who was his all, the One who was his intimate friend and lifelong companion, the One who was so radiantly in him the source of his love for the entire world.
I left Rome on a night train since I had no lodging and I couldn't make it back for the funeral on Friday because there was nowhere to go. The Italian government eventually asked people not to come because there was no more room anywhere in the city. My hope was to see the pope while I was in Italy; I didn't see him alive, but I saw much more. I saw a man who was not afraid to love and was thus able to encourage others to not be afraid, and who challenged every person to cast out into he deep.
John Paul the Great, pray for us!
Death of a Saint