I was attending college the year Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. I watched the news of his election with my mother, who shouted with surprise when she heard that the new pope was not Italian.
At the time, I was a lukewarm, cafeteria Catholic. But I immediately liked this new pope. He was relatively young, he joked with the crowd, and he had a kind face.
It would be years before I realized just how holy, brilliant and wise he really was. Blessed John Paul II was a great example not only in sanctity, but in suffering. He leaves a huge legacy, not the least of which were the writings and lectures on the “Theology of the Body.”
Earlier today, in his beatification ceremony, Pope Benedict XVI said, “Six years ago we gathered in this Square to celebrate the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Our grief at his loss was deep, but even greater was our sense of an immense grace which embraced Rome and the whole world: a grace which was in some way the fruit of my beloved predecessor’s entire life, and especially of his witness in suffering. Even then we perceived the fragrance of his sanctity, and in any number of ways God’s People showed their veneration for him …”
…”By his witness of faith, love and apostolic courage, accompanied by great human charisma, this exemplary son of Poland helped believers throughout the world not to be afraid to be called Christian, to belong to the Church, to speak of the Gospel. In a word: he helped us not to fear the truth, because truth is the guarantee of liberty.To put it even more succinctly: he gave us the strength to believe in Christ …”
And later, Pope Benedict said, “He restored to Christianity its true face as a religion of hope … (and communicated) the fullness of humanity and the fulfillment of all our longings for justice and peace.”
Blessed John Paul II, pray for us.