Our Wednesday Visitor continues
My friend David Morrison describes his meeting Pope John Paul II at a 1996 Vatican audience. There are three photos all told in this section. I find the photos kinda amusing, cause David is so clearly overwhelmed and humbled. It’s like a low-key version of Wayne and Garth saying “we’re not worthy” before Aerosmith or Alice Cooper. (Like I’d’ve acted any differently.)
That WAYNE’S WORLD comparison might strike some as irreverant, and obviously I *am* making a joke … somewhat. One of the amazing things about John Paul’s pontificate is that he wasn’t just (*just*) the greatest man of my lifetime, the man who brought down Communism and forcefully identified the Culture of Death in the West. He was also a *star* of the first magnitude, and by both exhortation and example made the Church fully comfortable with modern communication. He toured the world; he toured the States. He toured the world and elsewhere. And was greeted like a rock star everywhere he went, filling stadiums with chanting fans lapping up the souvenirs (some of them obviously silly; anyone else remember “Pope on a Rope” soap?).
I’ll almost certainly never talk to John Paul personally like David did, but I got some of that “rock star” charisma in my closest encounter with him. In January 1999, on a whim and a couple of days off, I drove all the previous day from South Carolina to St. Louis, where John Paul would have a one-day stopover on his way back to Rome from a visit to Mexico. I wasn’t able to get inside the TWA Dome for his morning Mass and settled for watching it on some temporary Jumbotrons outside (I might have been able to get a ticket from a scalper, but illegally buying a ticket to get into a Papal Mass is … just … no.) But he would be going to St. Louis Cathedral for an ecumenical service and would come out to speak to the crowd afterward.
So I got to the Cathedral as soon as I could and was able to grab the best spot to stand, right on the edge of the street (the curb was blocked off), front row center before the Cathedral steps. About 40 or 50 feet from the top of the steps. And there I stood, in one spot, not moving more than a few inches, for five hours. Or risk losing the best look at John Paul I’d ever get. It’s not exactly St. Antony of Egypt or the film SIMON OF THE DESERT, but it’s as close to flesh-mortifying monkdom as I’ve ever done. When John Paul came a few steps out of the cathedral to bestow a brief blessing on the crowd (no words), the whole crowd (now jam-packed for two blocks) starting chanting “John Paul Two/We love you.” It was really like a rock concert, how everyone just loved the man with a frenzy.
Those days are gone though, as his body is starting to give out (truth be told, he was already showing signs of age in 1999). But still he beatified Mother Teresa and installed another 30 cardinals. Maybe that’s his last witness to the world, refusing to give in to frail flesh — and witness against the kind of treatment of the frail and weak we see in places like Florida.
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