It has been a number of years since I last wrote about the Pope and my experience while attending Pope John Paul II’s funeral. I had the opportunity to see the PJPII on several occasions and greet him twice personally and each of those moments was exceptional and extremely personal to me. Each time I was blessed with seeing the Pope brought a breath of fresh air to my life and made me desire God more than I ever expected. So, naturally, when PJPII died, I was crushed. I couldn’t stop crying or thinking about how different the world would be without him. Even months after I was able to mourn his death with millions of people, I would think about him and begin to cry.
Now, my tears are replaced with hope and joy as I’ve discovered Pope Benedict XVI is the new Sheppard chosen to lead me on the path I was born to take. I found a kinship with Pope Benedict. The issues that I am passionate about, he helps shape, articulates and makes me more firm in my beliefs. Growing up as a Polish-American Catholic woman in the United States, I’ve always felt I’ve gone against the grain. I found that I had to fight constantly to defend my views and who I am. My parents always told me that there would be many moments in my life where everyone would be against me and I would be persecuted for my beliefs and feel alone and I grew up with the understanding of something that Pope Benedict later articulated, “Truth is not determined by a majority vote.” It is that quote that gives me the courage to continue living in the spirit of Christ.
I had recently moved from Chicago to New York and had the impression that NY did not have a large Catholic population and thought that the Catholics that were here were mostly non-practicing. So, when I learned that Pope Benedict was coming here from a seminarian on a plane on the way to Russia, I never dreamed of the events that were to follow. I contacted my New York Parish, Epiphany that I’d like to get on a waiting list. Back in January, the Monseignor of the Parish told me I was the first person to call about the tickets. My husband and I were placed on a waiting list and a few months later, were informed that we would be attending the Papal Mass on April 20th, 2008. I was overjoyed, but still had no idea that I was one of 60,000 people to receive tickets and the enormity of the history that would happen.
My parents came into town the Friday before the Papal weekend began and we all started feeling the reactions from the minute he arrived. People were excited to meet with him, touch him, see him and be blessed by him. Everywhere we went, whether it was a dinner at a restaurant, walking along on the street, media reports, there was chatter about the Pope coming to New York City. On news reports, even non-Catholics were excited. I watched a group of Jewish Choir boys talking about how this was a once in a life time experience and how they couldn’t believe that they would be singing for the Pope when he visited their Synagogue. On Saturday morning, we woke up at 4:30am to get in line with our Street Gallery tickets to participate in the St. Patrick’s Cathedral Mass. Thousands of us waited in line, anticipating the presence of this holy man. When Pope Benedict arrived, the cheers were tremendous. I remembered what it is like to respect again. In a world that has lost respect for elders, teachers, presidents and the religious, it was incredible to feel a large population of people who remembered what it was and cheered their hearts out proving it.
I wish I could articulate my words as well as Pope Benedict does in his homilies, my feelings during his Mass for the clergy. I was elated, and felt like this is just the beginning of my papal journey. I felt like I came to New York for a reason. I felt like any pain I had in my life was nothing in comparison to the love and joy that God provides. I felt like I was in the presence of thousands of people who were feeling that love and joy too. Then, after the Mass, we walked over to 5th Avenue and 59th Street to catch a glimpse of the Pope as he drove down to 70th Street. The crowds were immense. There were no places to stand and about 10 minutes before he came onto the street, the crowd was in a complete gridlock. As he drove by in his Pope mobile, thousands of cheered and he smiled and waved back. The crowd was joyous, shouting, “Benedicto!,” “We love you!” “Christ our Hope, Benedict our Pope,” and “Viva la papa.”
On Sunday, I was so excited about being able to see the Pope for a third time and celebrating a Mass with him again that I could not sleep. The hours flew by so quickly at the Yankee Stadium as we sung and cheered before the Mass began. The spirit of the crowd was amazing. Thousands of people stayed outside the stadium, just to be near the Pope during the Mass.
It was incredible that there were 70,000 people inside the stadium and over 100,000 outside of the stadium praising God. I felt like this was a glimpse into heaven, all of these people, young and old, all different races and ethnicities loving Christ. I kept praying for every person I knew in my life, for anyone that came to mind, for all those I’ve ever met, for those I haven’t met, for my family and anyone that needed prayers that they feel the joy the God wants everyone of us to feel. When the Our Father was sung or a prayer was said or an “Amen” was answered, I got shivers in my body. And when I received the Eucharist, I couldn’t stop crying and thanking God for this moment. To be part of something like this, renews your faith and gives you a fresh look at how you live your life and what you want out of life. I had been so focused on surviving in New York and missing my family and friends and life in Chicago and constantly looking back into the past that I had forgotten the peace and happiness that faith gives you. To see that there are thousands of us on fire for Christ brings a new hope. There is no need to worry about the future when Christ told us that every one who asks will receive what they need, just as it was said in Matthew, “Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t plant or harvest or gather food into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. You are more valuable than they are, aren’t you?”
The weekend was my best weekend here in New York. I am proud to be Catholic and part of this tribe of people united in the love of Christ.