Pope John Paul II’s eagerness to travel the world and meet with Catholics face-to-face will be one of the things for which he is most remembered. MSNBC readers share their experiences and encounters with the Pontiff, and how these moments impacted their lives.(We are no longer taking submissions on this topic. Thank you for your interest and the thousands of wonderful stories.)
In September 1987, my husband of two months and I went to San Antonio to see Pope John Paul II. We were lucky to be at the end of our row, where the Pope would be going past to get to the altar to celebrate mass. As the Pope passed by us, his procession stopped and he looked out into the crowd. He seemed to look directly into my eyes, and I remember the love and gentleness emanating from him. He passed a blessing on to me and smiled, and at that moment I looked at my husband and told him that I thought I might be pregnant, even though I had had no symptoms.
The next week my doctor verified that I was indeed about two weeks pregnant. My son was born in June 30, 1988, nine months and two weeks after seeing the Pope. To this day my son is an extremely devout Catholic, and is a very strong and loving person. He seems to have the same love and gentleness is his eyes as he was blessed with so long before his birth.
I have always felt that my son would have a calling for the church, but have never stated this to him. In the past two years he has several times asked me questions about joining the seminary, which I would be so proud for him to do. So I honestly feel that not me, but by son was truly blessed by the Pope on his visit to San Antonio in 1987.
--Becky Mullican, Baytown, Texas
He is my hero
I met Pope John Paul II in 1998. I kissed his ring and rubbed his hand on my cheek. When I finally let go of his hand he reached over to my other cheek and rubbed and patted it. I think he is the greatest Pope we have had. I cried and cried when he died. As he got older and the Parkinson became more pronounced, he still kept going and doing and wanting to be a part of everything he could do. He is my hero. I have Multiple Sclerosis and I am the same way. I still go and do as much as I can. I need the help of my husband more and more but I do not want to give up and just sit in a corner and miss out on so much. Pope John Paul II gave me the strength and the guidance to keep going. He is definitely Pope John Paul the Great and in my eyes he is already a saint. My prayers go out to him.
--Theresa Lenfert, Sellersburg, Ind.
The hand of God
One Wednesday, during the summer of '95, I had the opportunity to visit the Vatican. I thought I arrived too late in the day to be part of the Pope's General Audience. While staring in amazement at the beauty of St. Peter's, I noticed crowds rushing to get a position and seat at the pews. I unwittingly followed and was able to jockey a spot on the isle. After 15 minutes of waiting in anticipation, not know what was going to happen, the Pope started walking down the center aisle with an entourage. A rush of adrenaline ran through my body. I stuck my hand out and his Holiness clasped my hand for a brief, but precise moment. Time stood still. His hand was so soft and big. It felt as if my hand sunk into his palm. I walked around in peaceful daze for several hours feeling that the "hand of God" had touched me.
--James Ramos, San Francisco, Calif.
A spring break to remember
I was living in London at the time. Attending the American University of Richmond College in Central London. It was spring of 1996. The Catholic world was preparing for Easter. The students were preparing for spring break. Europe for spring break was such a privilege. I had so many options: skiing in Switzerland, pub-crawl in Ireland, cafe's in Amsterdam or beaches in Ibiza. Instead of the glamour of exotic destinations, I said 'arrivederci' to my classmates and chose a humble pilgrimage to Rome on my own. As student traveling goes, it was a budget trip to say the least. I booked into a convent 2 miles from St. Peter's Square (during the busy Easter week, most convents convert to simple B&B's).
With my letter of recommendation in hand, (7 years alter boy service was no small accomplishment!) I found Via dell'Umilta 30 in historic Rome. It is where the Bishops' Office for U.S. Visitors to the Vatican is located. My hope was to get a general audience ticket with the Pope for one of the many events leading up to Easter. I proceeded to the request office. The priest saw my recommendation letter. He saw that I was on my own. Perhaps he saw a candidate in me! At any rate, he saw I came to see the pope.
He was generous enough to give me tickets to the Holy Thursday Mass, The Good Friday Mass and Saturday Vigil. I was overjoyed at his generosity. Then he saved the best ticket for last: admission to the Easter Sunday Mass.
I arrived early that Easter Morning as there were well over 100,000 expected. I didn't know where I was meant to sit until I showed my ticket to an usher. I proceeded past the other pilgrims, past the Italians, past the Swiss Guards, past the priests and found my spot, much to my great surprise, on the alter sitting amongst the cardinals and bishops of the world! The ticket that the priest had given me was about 30 yards from the pope presiding over Easter Mass! It was an event that has blessed me and provided much grace throughout my life!
--Brendan O'Connor, Gilbert, Ariz.
I was lucky to have two close encounters with Pope John Paul II –- first as a child in St. Peter's Square when his Popemobile stopped in front of our family, and second when our multimedia team presented to him a CD-ROM we made about him (the first CD-ROM ever about Pope JPII, so it was a big thing for the Vatican!). I remember his huge hands clasping mine -- they don't look so large in the photos, but to me they seemed like bear paws, warm and fuzzy and all-encompassing that my hands disappeared in them. He had such an aura of joy and goodness emanating from his presence. He told us to keep it up, to keep doing good things. It was such an affirmation of the work that I was doing. The experience of meeting him moved me deeply and I will treasure those memories as long as I live.
--Anali Mapa-Drilon, Manila, Philippines
Passing by in the slow lane
Back 25 years ago, Pope John Paul II visited Chicago. My brother-in-law, a Chicago Police Officer, told me if I left work at precisely the moment he called and told me to leave, I would have the opportunity to see the pontiff as his motorcade drove from O'Hare Airport to downtown, on the expressway. As I headed west hoping to see John Paul heading east, I pulled over, stopped the car and waited. Sure enough, within moments the pope passed by! He was in the back seat of a limosine that had been specially lighted so the light shown down on his beautiful face. The limo drove at a slow, steady pace, which allowed me to wave and blow a kiss to the Pope. He beamed right at me, smiled and waved. It may sound uneventful to some, but I will remember that face, that smile, that wave and that feeling that even with a cement meridian and a limo between us. I had just been in the presence of holiness. I will remember and be grateful for my "passing" meeting with the pope for the rest of my life.
—Diane, Schaumburg, Ill.
I met him as Karol Wojtyla, I cried for him as the Pope
I first saw the future Pope in 1976, when I went to the "Polish Day" at the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia. I traveled on a bus with members of two Polish parishes in Utica. It was led by a local parish priest who had gone to the seminary with Karol Wojtyla in Poland during World War II. Cardinal Wojtyla was the main concelebrant and the preacher at the Mass. I caught a glimpse of Cardinal Karol as they walked at the end of the procession of Bishops and clergy following the Mass. When he became Pope two years later, I saw him on TV and exclaimed, "Hey-I know who he is!" I also saw him three times as Pope. He passed right by me in the Pope mobile at the start of the audience in St. Peter's Square in November 1979. I got a great picture of him as he passed by! In 1981, I saw him at the Audience Hall. When he passed by, I leaned over and yelled out, "Holy Father!" But with all the noise going on, I don't think he heard me!
—Barb Finnegan, Utica, N.Y.
Dog sledding with the Pope
When the Pope came to Anchorage in 1981, I decided what a better way for him to get a real sense of Alaska than to give him a ride with my sled dogs! Plans were all set to drive him on our Park Strip where he was going to be meeting with the people of Anchorage. But because of security concerns, the ride was shifted to the airport where I was to take him to his plane by dog team. Once he reached the airport, I was to drive him to his plane. When the pope appeared, I was standing at the back of the dog sled. I had the dog team harnessed and a professional dog driver standing beside each pair of dogs. After I was introduced, I had an idea: “Your holiness, would you like to drive the dogs and let me do the riding?”
He smiled quizzically and looked at the archbishop before answering. The archbishop said, “If Vaughan says its safe, it’s all right with me.” “What must I do?” his Holiness asked. “It’s very simple. You stand on the runners and hold these handlebars, and I’ll do the rest. You just ride along to the plane.” He stood on the back ready to go. I said, “Your holiness, there’s one thing I feel that I should tell you before we start. Two of my dogs have terrible names and I don’t want to offend you if I have to call out their names.” He waited for a minute and said, “What are their names?” “One is Satan and the other is Devil.” He thought a few seconds, and then he smiled. “No don’t take them out — just as long as I’m doing the driving.”
It was a rare privilege for me and I’m blessed to have had the opportunity.
A huge honor
I worked on World Youth Day '93 in Denver, Colorado and though not a Catholic, I always felt that there was something very special about him. I was so impressed at how he greeted the delegates of all 57 countries represented in their native language and at how well he seemed to relate to everyone regardless of their age. At the end of his visit, he requested an audience with the World Youth Day staff and he thanked and blessed all of us. At the time I was too young to understand what a huge honor that was. His passing has made me realize what an impact he had on the entire world, to people of all religions, as well as just how extrordinary the whole experience truly was.
—Jay Chais, Los Angeles, Calif.
Great to be young
It was, as I recall September 1987. The Pope had come to my university, the University of South Carolina, to address students. I was not, at the time, a particularly religious person. But this was world-fame that landed in a small Southern college town; it was big-time. There is still a stone set in the sidewalk to commemorate where he stood and spoke. The plaque quotes the Pope, "It's great to be young...it's great to be young and a student at USC". He was so friendly and his eyes were so alive. It was as though he was looking at each and every one of us, even though there were hundreds around the area.
—Anthony Wrifford, Columbia, S.C.
Giving a country new hope
The year was 1983, I was 14 years old, and in Nicaragua, the Sandinista revolution had pretty much destroyed any semblance of illusion, hope, and expectations for the future of the nation. My brother was dead, and the youth of the country was faced with a stark choice, to fight for the communist government, via a draft, or to fight against it, with the Contras. All political opposition had been crushed, and in the midst of this desperation, of this suicidal youth march, we are told that Pope John Paul II would visit Nicaragua. As a non-practicing Catholic, I was aware of who the pope was, but I was not prepared for the enormous impact this man, with his humble yet forthright countenance, would unleash on the totalitarian regime. That day, the pope held mass in front of over one million faithful, the mass of people completely awestruck and in trance, for nobody had ever meant so much to so many. On that sunny afternoon, He was the voice of justice, reason, hope and love, to a depressed youth, that had lost faith in the future of a nation. John Paul II gave Nicaraguans a reason to hope, a reason to live, and a reason to continue the fight for freedom, against totalitarian rule. On one sunny, warm, afternoon, and in one fell swoop, this pope gave us back our faith, and let us know that freedom is God's greatest gift to mankind. As he well put it: "Be Not Afraid". May God hold you in his stead, John Paul II, forever.
—Lionel Quinteros, Cape Coral, Fla.
Special moment in Santo Domingo
When the Pope John Paul II visited Santo Domingo for the second time in 1984, My grandmother a devoted Catholic made us cut palm leaves form her garden and made us stand in line in front of her house (she was planning to simulate the events of Palm Sunday), we were 14 kids and our mothers, we waited for hours under the hot sun for the pope to pass by, when he finally did it we saw in disbelief as the pope stood up from his seat in his car, looked at us and gave us his blessing, we started to cheer and cry full of emotions, what a humble man! A memory like that will stay in my heart forever.
—Giselle Rivera de Farisello, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Pope in the Village
I remember seeing the Holy Father in October, 1979, while a student at NYU. It was a rainy day and word spread through the college that the Pope's motorcade was to turn from 5th Avenue on to East 8th Street in Greenwich Village en route to a tickertape parade down Broadway and a ceremony at Battery Park. There weren't that many people on the corner of East 8th and Fifth, so I was pretty much right at the curb. As his motorcade turned and past, he was wearing his red Papal "sombrero" and was being shielded with an umbrella by the late Terence Cardinal Cook. The Holy Father was quite young then and what struck me was the ruddiness of his complexion. He smiled and waved his hand in the fashion of his Apostolic blessing. I am certain that our eyes met as he smiled and I applauded him wildly. I was like walking on air for the remainder of that day. He was a saint among men and I know he is at peace in the heaven of our Father.
—Mike Veras, Staten Island, N.Y.
‘Being in his presence was breathtaking’
When my daughter was attending college during her sophomore year in Rome I had the opportunity to visit her and attend the Holy Father's Wednesday outdoor audience one beautiful spring day. Through the intervention of close friendBein who knew a Swiss guard my husband and I were able to obtain some very good seats near the Pope. One of the images that will always remain with me is of him bestowing his blessing upon recent brides and grooms. As so many people have expressed, just being in his presence was breathtaking!
—Donna Andrews, Oakton, Va.
Bigger than life
I was a young police officer assigned to his visit to Chicago many years ago. Me and several of my fellow officers were very close to the altar on the lake front. I found his presence somewhat overwhelming. A month after my retirement twenty five years later I was at the Vatican and I felt that same presence. This man was bigger than life. I only hope my eight children can experience a person like him.
—Richard Schak, Chicago, Ill.
Ol' blue eyes
While on my lunch hour in Manhattan, I stood at the curb to see the Pope's motorcade and catch a glimpse of the Spiritual Head of the Catholic Church on his way to the United Nations.
As his car passed , it stopped, and he distinctly made eye contact with each person standing there. Looking into his clear blue eyes, I knew that I was feeling the spirit of love embodied in Christ's representative on earth. He was a man of the people of the world, who lived, suffered, loved and endured in the name of the religion that was central to his life. The Pope is dead. Long live the Pope, John Paul the Great!
—Irma Caiazzo, Las Cruces, N.M.
Goodbye rain, hello sun
When he came to Yankee Stadium in New York City so many years ago I was there with my ten year old son who had just become an alter boy at our parish. The weather was horrendous with wind and heavy rain. As we waited for the arrival of Pope John Paul an announcement was made on the loud speakers for all of us to pray that the weather would clear for the Pope. The thousands of us prayed outloud and to ourselves and as the motorcade approached and the rains continued to beat down we all felt sad. They stopped outside the gate and seconds before Pope John Paul entered the rain stopped, the sun shown through the clouds making the rain on the field glitter like gold. It was absolutely breathtaking and you could hear the gasp from the crowd for what we had witnessed. The Pope came through the gates and the sun continued to shine. When he left and went out of the gates the rain came down. I will never forget that day and I will forever remember the beloved Pope John. Although he is no longer of this earth I think of all of the gloriously happy people in Heaven rejoicing in his coming home. May he rest in peace.
—Kathy Pallotta, Morristown, N.J.
Kiss of an Angel
We took our three boys to Europe this past summer: Ireland, Germany, Austria, and finally Rome. While in Rome we came in contact with a young Italian restaurant and club owner. The owner took a liking to my sons, I think because they picked me up, wheelchair and all, and carried me down 12-18 steps to a meal and performance that was out of this world. After all the patrons left, he sat and talked with us. By the end of the evening, he told us to be ready by 8 a.m. and he would pick us up and take us to the Pope's summer home for his weekly Sunday Blessing.
I'm not even sure if I slept. Before I knew it, we were on our way to what I thought would be a blessing to all who gathered in the courtyard of his summer home. My son, Chris and I were escorted by the Swiss Guard to the very front of the court yard.
The Pope did not open a window to bless the crowd. Instead, he was wheeled out on to a stage maybe five feet in front of us. Chris and I sat in total awe (I looking like a drowned rat in lieu of the most wild thunder and lightening/torrential down pour of a storm I have ever been in) as the darkest day of our trip miraculously turned away to the light on the Son and rainbows overhead. He spoke for nearly 45 minutes.
When all the Priests, Bishops, Cardinals, and Dignitaries were escorted up on stage to be blessed by our Holy Father, Chris and I were summoned by the Swiss Guard to follow them, to what I thought would be to a safe passage out of the courtyard. To our surprise we were escorted up on stage, and yes, to receive a blessing from Pope John Paul II. Chris and I are now bound by this silent and holiest of moments for the rest of our lives.
—Rose Cahill, Yarmouth Port, Mass.
Cheered like crazy
I was lucky to see the Pontiff when he came to Chicago in the ‘70s. I excused my way up to the front about 20 blocks. When an armless man played the guitar for him, he jumped off the stage to give him a hug. We cheered like crazy. I will miss my Father.
After graduating high school in 1982, my father took me on a trip to Italy and Sicily. Although my father was, and remains, a staunch atheist, I secretly did not share his views. Imagine my surprise when our stop in Rome included a visit to Vatican Square at the same time the Pope would address the crowd! As I stood under the colonnade next to some colorfully dressed Papal Guards, the Pope addressed an audience of approximately 3,000 people in Spanish, English, Latin and Polish. I listened with awe to his words, which radiated tremendous love not only in their meaning, but also in their expression. John Paul II is truly a Holy Father who takes Jesus' life and message to heart. After listening to him address the crowd, I turned and found next to me none other than a classmate and close friend from my hometown high school. Neither of us knew we would be in Rome that summer, much less right there at the Vatican. I have not seen her again since that day. But how miraculous are life's small wonders when brought together in the presence of the truly holy.
—Darling Poor, San Diego, Calif.
John Paul Two, we love you
I first saw Pope John Paul during his visit to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993. I was one of thousands of teenagers and young adults who were fortunate to celebrate mass with him. What I will treasure most is the deep sense of hope, love and confidence that I think we all felt from him. The teenage years can be a time of confusion, awkwardness and turmoil, but Pope John Paul looked on that awkwardness with love. It was really empowering to know that he believed in us as we struggled to come to terms with adult faith and our place in the world. I think the words of the familiar World Youth Day chant say it all, "John Paul Two, We love you!"
—Maggie, Baltimore, Md.
I am from Lima, Peru. When I was little I didn't know much about Catholicism. I came from a catholic family, but, for some reason, was not been raised accordingly. One night in 1985, my dad took me to see the Pope as he traveled down Brasil Avenue. He had arranged to sit on top of a high building that had metal barbs surrounding it. My dad told me to watch for those barbs that the might hurt me. I was 5 years old and a little frenzied to see this man (back then I didn't quite know who he was) who everyone was so eager to see. But, I stumbled and fell directly into those barbs! I even felt a very bad sting on my right hand. I don't quite remember exactly how it happened but I felt that something pulled me out of there. Now I understand that it was the hand of God; I looked at my hand and I didn’t even have a scratch. Since then, I became interested in his life and my faith had increased incredibly.
—Giancarlo Obando, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
Cold day, warm visit
It was dead of winter, a cold day in February 1981. My husband and I had moved from warm California to spend our young adult years living and working in Alaska. If someone had told me back when I first arrived in Alaska that Pope John Paul would one day visit beautiful Alaska, I would never have believed it. But there I was standing with my family in the snow with a huge crowd in Anchorage that day looking in awe watching Pope John Paul II in his long white coat and bright red Vatican hat walk through the crowds, touching children sweetly as he always does and waving to us all, grinning widely with his twinkling eyes. His spirit of adventure and love for people around the world brought him to us in Alaska too.
I gave him a rose
When the Pope came to Phoenix, Ariz., he was scheduled to say mass at Simon and Jude. Two children from each class were allowed to attend the mass. When our first grade teacher put all our names into the hat, I said a prayer to God that I be one of the lucky two. My name was called and to this day I'm sure that my prayer was answered. I sat in the front pew and the Pope John Paul II put his hands over me and said a prayer. I gave him a rose in return. Thank you Jesus for blessing me through your Holy Vessel.
—John Martinez, Phoenix, Ariz.
Warm smile and blessing
It was a beautiful day in June of 1978, when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla visited his friend, Msgr. Sypek, at St. Attlebert Church in Hyde Park, Massachusetts. As a young member of the Krakowiak Polish Dancers of Boston's Children's Group, I was bestowed the privilege of presenting our guest with flowers. I recall kissing his ring and, in return, received a warm smile along with his blessing. Later that year, he became our beloved Pope! What a wonderful memory I get to share with my children.
—Pamela Bogdanski, Southborough, Mass.
World Youth Day
In 2002, the Catholic Church held the World Youth Day (WYD) celebration in Toronto, Canada. I, along with all of the youths and young adults from the Sacramento Diocese, gathered there with people from around the world. The day that the Pontiff arrived was an exciting day. Everyone there was looking up to the sky to watch for his helicopter. I was so excited when I arrived at the WYD activity area to find that our group of pilgrims found a spot right up against the barricade. I was so nervous due to my hope that I would be able to get a picture that would not be blurred as the Pope drove by. I was so pleased that I was able to get several nice, clear pictures of the Pope as they drove by us and was even more excited when I got a clear one of the Pope looking in my general direction. It has been an experience that has changed my life.
—Casandra Calderon, Galt, Calif.
I was blessed to be in the Pope presence two times. My first was in New York at the racetrack in Queens. I was so overwhelmed I felt this was Jesus on earth. The tears came down my eyes uncontrollably. The next time I was at the Vatican for the beatification of Mother Teresa. I was on the tenth row seat from the Pope's podium. It was awesome. I felt warmth, beauty and a profound feeling of oneness with all those thousands of people who were there. Being in the presence of the Pope John Paul II makes me feel heavenly. I could not believe my eyes. I was really looking at him. He is indeed a precious gift to us Catholics and to the world. Tonight, I shall look at my photo album with pictures of the Pope that I took at the Vatican and reflect upon the life of this Holy Man.
Speaking to an entire town
I studied architecture in Europe in 1996 while on an abroad program with my university. We were based in Como, Italy, and that spring the Pope was going to pay an official visit to the town. Como is small, a population of 80,000, north of Milan. The last time the Pope had officially visited was 700 years earlier! The fact that the United States had not even been discovered since the last time the Pope visited Como was extremely humbling. I was excited to have an opportunity to actually see the pope in person and the little town soon became overwhelmed with the upcoming visit.
When he finally arrived to speak, the surrealism had truly peaked. It all began when this sleepy mountain town was secured with military helicopters overhead and navy divers skimming about in high-speed boats on the lake. The Pope's arrival was surrounded by a buzz in the crowd. He proceeded to give a very moving speech to the citizens of the town in the main plaza, Piazza Cavour. You could feel the pride and awe in the people as they received the Pope in their small, humble town. I stood far away, but close enough to see his face and his emotions and expressions, which made me feel connected and I sensed the power from God surrounding him.
The next day came an even more powerful experience as the town prepared for the special treat of the Pope delivering mass in their intimate, classical cathedral. My roommates and I were working in our apartment that Sunday morning, sketching and eating breakfast with the windows wide open. We lived close to the cathedral, only a few twists and turns away, down the craggy streets of the old part of the city. They set up a speaker system in the piazza so everyone outside could hear the Pope's mass. As we worked, I paused as his voice started to echo. Beautiful Latin drifted in through the windy streets and into our windows with the sunshine and shadows of the tight allies. I looked at my sketches, I looked at my hand and the pencil I was pushing across the paper. I felt the power in his voice as his words poured over me. I tried to draw but it felt awkward. I just wanted to sit and listen...so I stopped and looked out to the sky and felt like I was an audience with God and his angels as the Pope spoke to us all. I will always remember that morning.
—Andre Krause, Santa Monica, Calif.
Love from every word
I think back to a high school trip I took to Italy when I was a senior. Not being Catholic I have never had the pleasure of experiencing a mass, but I was able to attend a Good Friday mass at St. Peter's Basilica in which the Pope was in attendance and did bless the crowd. While I did not meet the pope face to face, being only 20 to 30 feet from him I was still able to feel a great sense of love coming from every word he spoke. Upon arrival home I began to see the world in a different light. Before my experience at the Vatican I could not say that I was a tolerant person, however upon learning about Pope John Paul II's acceptance and his uniting different religions I realized that we are all the same people. Whether Muslim, Catholic, Baptist or Jewish we are all humans and all life is precious. I have Pope John Paul II to thank for this. I believe that nobody will be mourned more than this great man, but I am happy that God has decided to call his servant home, and that he will have continue to have a wide-spread effect on the world even after his death. God bless the Pope, and God bless the world.
—Andrew Shaffer, Texarkana, Texas
A blessed ticket
—Annette Novak, Independence, Mo.
New York blessing
I was fortunate enough to see the Pope in October of 1995 at Aqueduct in New York. It was a wonderful day. At the time my husband and I had been trying to conceive for five years. I was hopeful that in seeing the Pope and praying with him that my dreams for a child would come true. In addition, my father and grandfather had just passed away, so I was looking for comfort. I found both. The following month I was pregnant with my first child, Kathleen. I always have believed that my visit with the Pope contributed to my wonderful news! God Bless you, John Paul.
—Maryanne Hurley, Bohemia, N.Y.
A special smile
I went on a class trip of January of this year to go on a tour of Italy. One of the first stops we made in the country was to go to the first general audience that was being held for the year. We were seated in the middle of a crowd so huge, that I figured that there was no way he would see our class. To my surprise, when the cardinals were announcing all the pilgrim's visiting to the Pope, our class was the very last one announced. As we were cheering, the Pope actually looked at us and smiled. This is a cherished memory for me because I was part of a group that was actually acknowledged by the Pope.
—Michael Gonzales, Moraga, Calif.
Enthusiasm all around
My first encounter with the Holy Father occurred during a visit to the U.S. shortly after he became Pope. When my husband and I heard that he was to say mass on The Mall in Washington D.C., we hopped a plane from Florida to be present. It seemed as if the Holy Spirit had pulled us to him. We were "close" to the altar-only a half a block away. Yet, such was his spirit and magnetism that he projected to each of us the joy and enthusiasm one should have with the gift of life. Through him, in a special way, I felt a powerful yet tender feeling of love that Christ has for each of us. There was much excitement in the crowd as if we all sensed that this was the beginning of a new and energetic time for the church. He was a Pope, who in a dramatic way had already suffered much in personal loss of family, the horrors of wars, and had demonstrated courage against a repressive political system. This Pope, John Paul II, seemed to be one of us who personally understood the worst of life, yet reminded us and demonstrated through his vigorous example that we were all here to create the best of life through Christ's message of justice and love.
Twenty years later, I saw him again, during one of the Wednesday audiences at the Vatican along with 6,000 other eager and excited pilgrims. At this time, he was limited to the stage by his infirmities. What was most remarkable was the love and enthusiasm each group gave to the pope as they were introduced. A band played, a choir sang, and many shouted out messages or chants as their turn came. My group from Nashville proudly unfurled a banner from the new high school named in his honor. The message of spreading of Christ's word and love, had penetrated the faithful. This time they were giving it back to the Pope in abundance. He responded with such delight and laughter, cherishing this time with the people.
--Diana Bangert, Nashville, Tenn.
Privileged in the Philippines
I felt privileged to see the Pope when he first visited my old country, the Philippines back in 1981. Being an ROTC cadet in the catholic university I was attending in the central part of the country, I was among those assigned together with the local law enforcers to control the crowd. When we got the word that his caravan was about to pass our area, we were ordered to take off the top of our green fatigue uniforms by the First Lady of the land. We were told that the government did not want the Holy Father to have an impression that the country is militarized — which in fact it was, at the time. Then he finally passed. He was smiling and waving and seemed to enjoy every minute of his visit amidst the tropical heat of the sun. He looked tanned yet youthful.
—Evans R. Centina, Los Angeles, Calif.
My wife and I had the opportunity to meet Pope John Paul II and receive a blessing from the Pope on our honeymoon in December, 2001. It was an experience that we will always cherish and never forget for the remainder of our lives.
—Steve Gonzalez, Glen Cove, N.Y.
Worth the trip
I saw the Pope in San Antonio, Texas back in the 80's I believe in the newly designed Pope-mobile. It was the most amazing and spiritual experience of my Catholic faith. My mom and sister and I drove eight hours to see him as it was that important to us and the closest he had ever been to our neck of the woods!
—Ann, Edmond, Okla.
I was fortunate to see the Pope in Rome in 1987. I was in St. Peter's and he was going to be hearing confessions for the bishops. It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise to me. I was on Holy Saturday. I will never forget that day as long as I live. I felt as if he was looking right at me.
—Donna Mangone, South Weymouth, Mass.
For most of my life the Pope has been the Spiritual leader for the faith I grew up with. I remember when he left the Vatican and came to the United States for the first time. The Pope was in Iowa City about three hours from Omaha, where I lived at the time. I don't remember how many from my class made the pilgrimage to see him and celebrate Mass with him. The Pontiff was so young, and seemed unstoppable. To see him now it is hard to believe that he is the same person. I know I will miss him.
—Ann, Denver, Colo.
While in Rome in October 2000, we had the opportunity to be in the audience on a Wednesday morning. My father and I were standing on chairs to see the Pope. As the Pope was arriving in his Pope mobile my father got tears in his eyes and stated, "I never thought I would ever have the chance to see the Holy Father. "That moment was priceless and will forever be in my heart. My 74-year-old father was so moved. It was especially fitting since my father passed away nearly two years later.
—Betty Stiffler, Wickliffe, Ohio
A close encounter
I saw him three times. Two in Buenos Aires and the third one in the Vatican but the most striking encounter was the first one, in Buenos Aires in the late seventies or early eighties. We were standing outside the Vatican Embassy and John Paul II had already come out to greet the people, so everyone was gone and we were not more than 20 people still shouting for him to come out again and he did and he took his time to make eye contact with each one of us. It was a really moving situation for everyone there because it was like a private meeting. I will never forget that. Hope he will enter next life in total peace.
—Alejandra Camara, Buenos Aires, Argentina
I was assigned to the security detail for the Pope's visit to Newark. At the time, my daughter was being treated for Nueroblastoma, a very nasty pediatric cancer. As the Pope mobile passed the area that I was assigned, he was blessing the crowd that had formed to meet him. As I made the sign of the cross, he looked briefly at me and we made eye contact for just a second. I felt that my daughter would be alright. Now, some nine years later, she is considered "cured". I began to walk parallel to the Popemobile for about 20-25 yards as it approached the front of the cathedral. I looked at the jumbotron Television screen that was erected and saw that I was on TV with the Pope. I went home and luckily a friend had recorded the news coverage. SO now I have a video of the Holy Father and me.
—Bill Whitley, Basking Ridge, N.J.
I am humbled to have been blessed twice by the pope. I am told that he first blessed me in 1976 when my parents were visiting Europe and I was still in the womb! I actually recall the second remarkable encounter, which was during his visit to Columbia, South Carolina in the mid-1980s. I was a member of the Greater Columbia Children's Choir, and we sang for him at the Williams Brice stadium. He blessed each and every choir member. Our choir also appeared in a local commercial with him, and his blessing me was part of the final cut. My family still treasures the video footage and especially the sacred memories of the truly unforgettable spiritual experience.
—Kathryn Burns Nelson, Charlotte, N.C.