Just had to commemorate that. ... more here.
I loved that man even before I was a Catholic -- he came to Anchorage the year after I graduated from high school. I was in Europe when he was elected. It meant very little to me at the time -- I didn't even understand why it was such a big deal that he was Polish. Now that I know more about the history of this last century, I understand better. He was on the scene at some truly pivotal times in our civilization's progress. I don't think the reality of what the last century was about is yet understood by most historians, and perhaps it won't be really understood for some time yet, if ever. So many secular historians still seem to think the 20th century of "post-Christianity" was one of a new secular humanitarianism and tolerance and awareness, when what you actually see is almost the opposite. The Church, with its allies, was probably really the only "Witness to Hope" during this time, and Karol Wojtyla as boy, man, priest, bishop and pope seemed to be crucially involved in many of its key moments.
His willingness to be an ill, suffering Pope in his last days rather than step down as some would have had him do was a wonderful testament to the dignity of suffering and helplessness.
He had to breathe with the help of a respirator and receive nutrition through a G-tube in his last days, just as my Aidan did for long periods of time without the least loss to his human dignity and power to effect what really counted. Every time I think of that, I think of how it could really only be the grace of God that a handsome, athletic, intelligent man was willing to have his ugliness, incapacity and frailty exposed in detail through the whole world, to much worldly scorn and contempt. Surely this was a witness to Christ more than anything he could do in his "best" moments as a human being. As Chesterton says, the history of Christianity has been a history of defeat being stronger than victory.
I am thinking that John Paul may well have made some mistakes during his life; certainly there is no promise of infallibility for a Pope's every action. He lived in a complex time and dealt with challenges that most of us don't have to deal with. We live in a time when many of the laity are more ready to criticize and armchair-quarterback than to pray for our pope, and so possibly we did not do our share in helping him out. At any rate, I am trying to pray more heartily for our pope, bishops and priests these days than I probably did back then. However, one thing I am sure was not a mistake was his courage in his last days. I think we are still seeing some of the graces released during that time.
During the wrenching days of Aidan's liver transplant (he was desperately ill for several days before and after) my husband played over and over again on CD a Rosary spoken by the Pope. Aidan survived against great odds. If this was a miracle attributable to intervention by the saints, it was attributable to St Therese of Lisieux, Padre Pio and Mother Thecla Merlo.
However, once again John Paul seemed directly connected to our lives, as he did once again when Aidan spent the Jubilee of 2000 in the hospital.
Pope John Paul II, after his death, was associated more explicitly with a small family miracle of ours. My daughter wished to be confirmed a year earlier than is standard in our diocese of California. She had prepared, petitioned, done everything she could with our help to have our wish granted. All the possible doors seemed to be closing. On April 2, Pope John Paul II died and we particularly asked for his intercession in her desire. And within the next couple of days, a completely unexpected door opened (through the human agency of some good friends) and Clare was confirmed during the Papal Conclave. During the moment of confirmation a wind gusted up and almost knocked over the tables laden with food for the post-confirmation reception.
The celerity and briskness with which Clare got confirmed was probably not a "true" miracle because it could be attributed to natural things; all the same it seemed that grace had breathed on human efforts. And we felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a very direct way during that time.