I write to you on my last day in Rome – I thought I’d share my thoughts about seeing the Pope and attending his funeral.
First of all, I have to say that this was one of the most fantastic and extremely fulfilling experiences of my life. I should start from the beginning.
As soon as I heard of the Holy Father’s death, I burst into tears and knew that I needed to attend the funeral. I’ve grown up with him, as many of us have, and although I don’t usually like to admit it, I definitely feel another affinity toward him because he is Polish, but more so because he is a Shepard, a descendant of St. Peter and a charismatic, wonderful Pope. My parents have seen the Pope many times in their lives and during mine while I was extremely young and then again during my teen and young adult years. He came to Poland in 1979 and gave my parents his blessing, while I was in the womb and thus,started my journey with the Pope. Again, we saw him while we lived in Nigeria and other times in our travels to Rome, St. Louis and Canada.
Our most recent journey involved our third private conference with him, October 2003. It is incredible to be in his presence. You can see that this is a man of great intelligence. You can feel his holiness, you can feel the love he has for God, for Christ, for humanity.
So, needless to say, I felt that I needed the closure and I needed to attend the funeral. I needed to see him lying there and I needed to pray for his soul, pray for his intercession in our lives. So, my mom and I went. I cannot tell you how much of a blessing it is that I was able to go on a moment’s notice, that things worked out so well. I did not know what to expect, where we were going to sleep at night. All I knew is that we had our tickets and we were going to arrive on Tuesday afternoon.
After a ten hour flight, of which neither my mother nor I slept on, we found a hotel (which we could only stay in for two nights). We didn’t care, we would sleep on the street if we had to. Mom and I put our bags down and went straight to the Vatican. What we saw there was thousands of people in line, long before we arrived, just waiting to say goodbye to our Pope. It was a miracle that so many people had come to see this one man.
We stood in line for 8.5 hours, up until 3:30am, when we had just arrived in St. Peter’s Square and the Basilica was shut down for preparations. It would open back up at 5am. I wish you could all have seen what I did. The organization in Rome was spectacular. Police and extra security were everywhere, free bottles of water and blankets were being passed out, tents were put up for those without places to stay, First Aid was just a “doktore!” shout away. Thousands of people were in this line and no one was angry and people were so energized about the Pope, it just surprised me. People would burst into song or prayer in all different languages. Someone would start a song in Italian, another would sing the same song in German, another in Polish, another in Spanish, etc. The most fantastic thing about this is that it was mostly young people. He had revitalized our church and loved the young and their self-expression so much and they wanted to show him that they loved him
After 8.5 hours and not being prepared for the cold, knowing that we would have to wait at least 4 more hours to get into the church to see him, mom and I decided to call it a night. It was a hard decision because we knew that the lines would just get bigger and bigger as the days went on. Sure enough, by Wednesday people were waiting 18 hours and by Thursday, we met people who were waiting 24+ hours. At one point, it was said that there were 2 million people in line to see him. The lines had extended to the Tibre River and would loop around in the streets before you could get to the Square. I was pretty sad about it, but knew it was my time to leave, and soon came to find out that I made a good choice because I was going to get to see him after all.
On Wednesday, we just hung around the Vatican and the surrounding areas where the crowds were just to feel the spirit of the people. We met tons of different people and just felt completely blessed to be there.
It was on Thursday morning, where the lines were 24+hours to see him, that we finally were able to get into the Basilica. It was by the grace of God that our priest, Fr. Adam, led us to meet another priest who knew another priest who worked as a judge in the Vatican, who led us in as delegates. Mom and I were able to see the Pope a number of times and we ended up spending 4 hours in the Basilica, participating in the Mass and reciting the rosary. He looked so at peace, so lovely. It was so good to let the tears out and pray.
Friday was another day I will cherish for the rest of my life. Again, by the grace of God, we received tickets to attend the funeral. All we were told is to dress appropriately as delegates. We had no idea where we would sit, until the moment we got there. I don’t know how it happened, but we got to sit on the balcony, right below the Pope‘s residence, above all the different Presidents and representatives. To my left, sat Mother Theresa’s replacement, Mother Nirmala from Calcutta. Another absolutely holy person. I received a relic of Mother Theresa from her. To my right, delegates from Columbia who struggled to get seats. The one woman said to me, “I don’t know why we are here and are able to attend this, but our job now is to find out what we were called to do.” For the moment, I share this because I’m not sure what else to do! This experience was phenomenal.
The Mass was absolutely beautiful. It was done completely in Latin, except for the homily, which luckily a priest was able to translate from Italian to Polish. By now, it’s probably up online somewhere, so I urge you to read it, if you can. Every single time someone started shouting goodbye to the Pope or saying “John Paul II, we love you” or things of that sort in other languages, everyone joined in. There were signs that stated, “Santo Sabatino,” meaning Canonize him immediately. There were tears and goodbyes by everyone.
One thing I hinted at above is that whenever John Paul II was in the room, your size, your power, your background didn’t matter. We are all equal in the eyes of God and are really just small compared to his Vastness. An interesting event that happened and I’m not sure that the media caught on to this, but everyone who sat in the balcony saw this because we were laughing pretty hard. Former presidents Clinton and Bush and Condoleeza Rice got up before the funeral prayers were completed-I’m not sure if it was out of security reasons or if they had some other place to get to, but several priestssurrounded them and quickly brought them back to their seats. Even their prominent positions were nothing on that day, they were not allowed to leave until John Paul was carried out. I thought that was a beautiful moment.
I still cannot get over the fact that so many people attended this funeral. Five million people, not to mention all different leaders of various countries. There has never in history been a funeral like this one. His spirit was with us. If you watched thefuneral on TV, did you catch on to the Bible closing just as the Gospel was read. It was if John Paul was saying thank you, goodbye to us as well. And the young people! I just can’t get over that. We need this spirit, this charisma, this excitement and even in his death, it didn’t end!
I feel so blessed to have experienced this and I was so excited that I needed to write all of you! I hope to have the opportunity to go back to Rome for the canonization.
Obviously this was a great man and although I am sad that he is no longer living, I feel that he will do even more good for usfrom Heaven.