When I decided to go to the beatification of John Paul II, I feared two things: crowds and rain. I was right to fear one, whereas the other never materialised.
I knew because of the likelihood of long queues that I would not get much sleep between Saturday evening’s vigil of prayer and Sunday morning’s beatification mass, in the event I did not get any.
The festivities began for me when, walking over the crest of the entrance to the Circus Maximus, I was greeted by the sight of thousands of lighted candles reminiscent of images of the Marian shrine at Lourdes. There, as people like former Vatican press office chief Joaquín Navarro-Valls and John Paul II’s secretary Stanisław Dziwisz gave their testimonies on the stage – which was a long way from where I was – people did the same on the ground remembering John Paul II, and many silently made their confession to priests where chariots once raced.
One felt close to Karol Józef Wojtyła while saying the Rosary, the prayer he so loved, with the mysteries of light that he instituted. After that we walked (or others walked and I was pushed) across the city and got into the queue for Saint Peter’s square. Here my fear of crowds was justified, we were so pressed together people could not move and could not get out. Some began to push forward and I thought of the Heysel and Hillsbrough disasters, where people were crushed to death because they had no escape.
Luckily, my wheelchair gave me a little more space and after 3 very uncomfortable hours – where some impressively unchristian behaviour was on display from clergy and laity – we were allowed into Via della Conciliazione.
It seemed a grace from John Paul II that nothing terrible happened but more graces were to come. My other fear, the rain that everyone had predicted, was nowhere in sight. As the Mass began – just as had happened at the beatification of Cardinal Newman – the sun came out and an atmosphere of joyful thanksgiving and prayer descended on us all.
The moment Pope Benedict XVI said the words we had come to hear and a picture very similar to the one on the front of our John Paul II: The Road to Sainthood biography was unveiled, there was a sense that those of us who applauded did so not only for ourselves but on behalf of all those we knew who loved the Holy Father but could not be there.
The many hundreds of Poles around me were in tears and I was close too, the suffering and inconvenience of no sleep or food were nothing compared to the gratitude everyone felt towards the man who, as his successor said, “restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope.”
Put me on the list for the canonisation – just organise it better.
Blessed John Paul II, pray for us.
John Paul II – The Road to Sainthood by Jim Gallagher is available from CTS at £2.95
Of related interest:
|John Paul II: The Pope who Made History – A unique and monumental 5-DVD collection that chronologically follows Pope John Paul II’s life, including his childhood in Poland, his appointment as Pope, his most important foreign visits, and his last days.|
|John Paul II: His Life his Pontificate – his DVD contains two feature-length documentaries: His Life (30 mins) and His Pontificate (60 mins). They consider the two parts of John Paul’s life, before and after his election as Pope.|
|How Saints are Canonised – Through baptism, all Christians are called to be saints, and yet there are also ‘saints’ who are ‘canonised’ by the Church. This booklet gives an overview of the history and process of beatification and canonisation in the Catholic Church.|