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My First Encounter With Pope John Paul II

As we remember the earthly life of Pope John Paul, I offer a reflection on my first meeting with the Bishop of Rome.

As the people gathered in front of St. Peter's Basilica to pray for John Paul II, I recalled the first time I saw him. At the time I was not Catholic. I had been raised, culturally, as a Southern Baptist. Years before I had traded that identification of my Christianity for one of "general Protestant." I was still in search of my spiritual home.

As I was preparing to leave Germany for an assignment in the US, I decided to take a grand tour of Italy and Greece. I arrived in Rome with a couple of other American women I met in Florence.

By chance, we arrived on a day when the Pope would be celebrating Mass in St. Peter's Square. It was the First Communion celebration for a local orphanage. These children would receive their First Communion from the Pope! We decided that this was too good to pass up. Even I understood that this was a rare treat--To attend a papal Mass without needing a ticket!

Let me say that as a Protestant, I had been thrilled with the election of Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyla of Poland. That a man from a Communist country was elected to this exalted post was incredible. He was a man who fought for spiritual and physical freedom for his people.

Karol Wojtyla had risked much from the beginning of his spiritual journey. He had attended seminary in secret. At the time Poland was under Nazi occupation and it was against the law to study for the priesthood. He was also a supporter of the theatre (intellectual freedom). He was one of the founders of the "Rhapsodic Theatre." head knowledge of the man did nothing to prepare me for the spiritual knowledge of the man.

There I sat, among thousands of people who I did not know. I was taking part in a worship experience that was not of my faith tradition. It was taking place in a language that I did not speak.

Yet, here was a spiritual joy that could only be experienced at a simple level. The joy that Pope John Paul II had at being with people, with children, outdoors flowed from him. His love transcended all the barriers that should have stopped it. More than his love was the love of God. More than his love was the love of the people that surrounded me. At that moment in time, we were one. We were one in the peace and joy that John Paul expressed in his words and actions.

My Up Close Encounter With John Paul II
Pope John Paul has been called the rock star of the Catholic Church. His followers included one unexpected screaming fan.

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