The Cranky Ol' Bat

Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death! - RuPaul


Memories of the Pope

It's hard for anyone who was brought up Catholic to watch the news right now. For many of us, John Paul II is the only pope we knew. He has been the pope for 26 years, far longer than any other pope in the history of the Church.

It is hard for non-Catholics to understand just how surprising it was when he was first elected. When his predecessor passed on, it was just assumed that another ancient Italian was going to take his place. After all, they had been the popes for the previous 400 some years.

"The Pope is what??" the Italians at St Joseph's Church said when they heard the news. I was pretty happy myself, having to put up with a bunch of dumb Polock jokes when I was a kid from the half-Italian family across the street. We were of Eastern European descent, but to them, everyone with a funny sounding Slavic name was a Polock. All of those stupid jokes faded away as it became better known that the Pope could speak, what was it, many languages, and wasn't a klutz.

My dad had promised to take me and my brother to Rome someday, and he did after I graduated from high school. He took it upon himself to make it a Catholic heritage tour, and somehow arranged to get tickets to a private audience with the Pope. 5000 people from all corners of the world were crammed into the place.

I remember the unofficial competition between the Latin American contingent and the Poles to make the most noise in honor of the Pope. It was at least an hour before he was scheduled to arrive, but from one end of the room you would hear a "Juan Pablo! Amigo! Colombia esta contigo!" answered by some choir singing out in Polish at the other end. Not to be outdone, some other group would sing along to a guitarist in Spanish behind us. In front, there was some other group trying to join in the noise fest, but the Poles and the Latins joined forces to drown them out.

When he finally arrived, the place went nuts. I don't remember what he said. It's been about twenty years and lots of tequila since that day. I do remember his presence, even from the back of the room. I remember how happy the audience was to see him, and the outpouring of love for John Paul when he acknowledged the crowd. When he walked down the aisle to leave, my brother and I were pushed aside by a tiny, determined nun that we nicknamed "The Battle Penguin". Neither one of us went to parochial schools (our atheist mama wouldn't allow it), but we knew better than to get in the way of a determined sister.

He was also the first Pope to visit Arizona. We were lucky again and got tickets to see him at Sun Devil Stadium (only about a third of Valley Catholics could attend...there weren't enough seats to accommodate everyone). An acquaintance of mine dearly wanted to go and we gave him the tickets instead. We watched him on the television performing Mass there. When I think of the Pope, I remember him as he was on that day....strong, alert and dedicated to his faith.

That's what made it so hard to watch his last appearance this Easter. I don't think any Catholic really expected to see him celebrate the most important Mass of the year, but it was still surprising to see this once vigorous man crying at his window when he acknowledged the crowd. I think he knew it was the last time. When they showed the crowd, it looked like they realized it, too.

Now on CNN they say that his last words have been "You come to me, and for this I thank you."


  • At 6:24 PM, Blogger seaslover said…

    I'm not Catholic, but I look upon his passing - and his life for that matter - as one of those monumental events in history that I will probably only get to see once in my lifetime. I think he has been instrumental in advancing the Catholic church and his devotion to life and his duty will always be remembered.


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