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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Karol Wojtyla

May God bless and protect Pope John Paul II.

At Mayfair Manor I slipped past the doors of those still sleeping and took a seat on the couch. It was 3:30 AM EST- the middle of the night. I picked up the remote, planted my finger on the 'down volume' button and clicked on the t.v.. There was no difficulty finding what I was after. Eight channels were carrying the funeral. Slowly I bumped up the volume until I could just hear what was happening.
The bowl that is St. Peter's Square was already filled with sunlight and pilgrims. Every inch of the plaza was taken up by the 150,000 people come to say good-bye to the beloved pontiff.
When the coffin was carried out of the Basilica the crowd erupted in applause- the first of many out-pourings of affection from those present. On top of the coffin a copy of the Gospel was opened. The priests circled the coffin with what my friend Capt. Mocket refers to as "firey hand-bags." Beautiful plumes of smoke billowed around the priest and over the Pope. The wind was billowing out the robes of the clergy and flipping the pages of the Gospel. The pages of the book turned one way and then the other. I wish I could've seen which pages it stopped on.
There were readings from the Psalms (in Spanish), Paul (the only portion of the service in English) and John (in Latin). I really liked the Homily. Somewhere along the way the wind blew the Gospel on the casket shut...
The crowd was astounding. So many people so still; so quiet. One little boy was wearing a bandana around his head that read: "Viva il Papa". One woman was holding a portrait of the Father to her chest. Everywhere there were flags. Brazil, Mexico, America, France, Lebanon, and, of course Poland.
Pope John Paul II became Pope just as I was getting old enough to ask my Grandmother questions such as: what does 'pollock' (sp?) mean? First my grandmother told me never to use that word again in her house (which I haven't) and then she pointed out the new pontiff as a strong contradiction to that bizarre theory that Poles are idiots. "He is Polish- like you." She even got me the Pope John Paul II comic book- which I read so many times it fell apart. My grandmother taught me to be proud of my heritage. I still have the tiny "Solidarnosc" t-shirt Grandma brought back from Poland for me. Pride in our Polish Pope is part of the Polish package: he was Karol Wojtyla before he was Pope John Paul II.
I'm not quite sure about Catholic Masses- I may've missed a step, but, I think the Eucharist came next. Wow. That was impressive Host-handling. You try and get bread and wine into the mouths of 150, 000 people and see how easy it is.( I wonder if Vatican wafer tastes better than the regular kind.)
After the Lord's Prayer came the Sign of Peace- an ancient tradition resurected not so long ago. "Peace be with you." "And, also, with you." I like that part of Mass. It's the only part, as a non-Christian, that I can take part in. It was a deeply moving moment to see so many people reaching out to eachother so gently.
The Eastern Churches, in their beautiful glittering robes, gave their respects. I had never heard their prayers or songs before. It's a heavy sound, but, I liked it. The prayer their Bishop (?!) gave was very sweet.
Cardinal Paolo (?) sprinkled the coffin with water- the Water of Life- and the pall bearers desended to lift our Pope for a last good-bye. How much love and loss was there in the world in that moment? How many millions of people were all of one mind just then? It's a stunning idea.
I was very lucky that the funeral lasted as long as it did ( almost 2 and a half hours). M , roused by the alarm clock, came into the just-lightening living room as the pall bearers were lifting the Pope onto their shoulders. "I need a hug," I whispered. The warm arms of that good man were a blessing at such a moment. I was all wrung out. We sat close and watched as the pall bearers turned the Pope for one last time to the crowd. And then the Pope was gone- down into the catacombs beneath the Basilica to rest beside St. Peter...for now. The crowd had been calling "Santo! Santo! Santo!" If he is made a saint his remains will be brought back above ground as is the tradition.

It's scarey to think of the world without John Paul II in it. I keep trying to remember he had a good life and that he couldn't stay forever.

from May 7, 2001
Damascus, Syria
from a prayer given by the Holy Father in the Golan Heights:

"To the Mother of Jesus, the ever blessed Virgin Mary, we entrust the men and women living in the land where Jesus once lived. Following her example, may they listen to the word of God, and have respect and compassion for others, especially those who differ from them. May they be inspired to oneness of heart and mind, in working for a world that will be a true home for all it's people."

While the Pope was in Syria I was in Yemen. I watched as the first Roman Catholic Pope in history set foot in a mosque. Ahmed- my Yemeni angel- translated the newcast. It was comforting to see the Pope on the t.v.- like seeing my Grandpa on the screen."Hey! I know you!" The image of Pope John Paul II is as familiar to me as that of Uncle Sam. I still remember the portrait of him my Great Grand Mother (Mary Meilesko- may she rest in peace) had in her living room- in the corner over the couch.
The mosque was the Omayyad Mosque- a very interesting site. Christians revere the place because of the massive marble shrine said to hold the head of John the Baptist Initially the place was dedicated to Hadad a Semitic god. Between Hadad and the Head the Romans built a temple for Jupiter. One location; four religions. Cool.

First there were prayers for him. Now there are prayers to him.
( And I hope the Vatican returns his heart to Poland.)


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