I just read the news that the date of Pope John Paul II’s beatification has been set for May 1. Santo subito!
Many people more informed than I will publish lengthly analyses of this, but I want to share a few personal experiences and ideas.
I only really took an interest in Pope John Paul II when I entered the seminary. Before then, I was simply not that interested in the pope, although I already had an interest in becoming a priest. I saw him for the first time in person when I went to Rome just after Christmas in 1992; I was in Italy for my second year of novitiate, and everyone in our novitiate community went to Rome for the end of our congregation’s General Chapter. We went to the papal Mass at St. Peter’s on January 1, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. In that setting, of course, I could not help being impressed!
Now that I was paying attention, I was constantly edified by John Paul II’s ministry as pope – his courage in speaking the truth to the Mafia, his constant travels, and of course, the support he constantly showed to my community, the Legionaries of Christ. Over the next few years, I was able to see him in person several times: in Rome during the summer of 1993, during his visit to Brazil in 1997, and then during my time in Rome from 1997 to 2001. The high point of that was when I was an altar server for the Easter vigil in 2001, for which the Pope was the main celebrant.
I have heard many anecdotes about how God worked through John Paul II throughout his lifetime. Once, while visiting supporters of the Legion of Christ in America, I met a man who had suffered a great deal. He had ended up in the hospital, with psychological problems stemming from his service in Vietnam and physical injuries from tough manual labor on his job. His life was in shambles. But while in the hospital, he watched live coverage of one of pope’s visit to America – and he told me, during my visit with him, that when he saw the pope on the hospital TV, he had a sort of mystical experience, and he saw Christ. After that day, he recuperated completely, and is now a healthy and devoted Catholic who dedicates much of his time to making rosaries to send to persecuted Catholics around the world.
Like everyone else, I watched the Pope’s health decline. His constant struggle to remain as active as possible despite his illness was painful to see. It was a real lesson in self-sacrifice and in the power of God to work through limited instruments. The last time I saw him alive in person was at an audience in November of 2004. I was one of 59 priests ordained on Nov. 25 that year, and we went to the next public papal audience, and were allowed to take a group photo with him. It was fairly clear that he would not be with us much longer on earth. His death just months later was no real surprise.
I have no doubt about his sanctity. I personally met someone who was totally cured of Crohn’s disease after a novena to John Paul II just a couple of years after the pope’s death.
The fact that the pope was deceived by Fr Maciel is, in a way, comforting for me; it’s kind of nice to know that people much holier and wiser than I were also totally taken in… Although some people have suggested that the pope knew the truth about Fr Maciel, I don’t believe that at all.
I’m sure he made other mistakes too; no one has perfect judgment. Some people are already criticizing the decision to beatify him. Personally, I’m very glad he is being beatified, and I think it’s the right thing to do. Considering all the problems and obstacles he had to face, he did amazing things, and his legacy is overwhelmingly positive.