Friday, September 30, 2011
Reflections on Buon Papa Giovanni
I began an eight-year journey (1963-1971) in the seminary (high school and college) during his pontificate and the Council which he convened. Both have had an incredible influence on my life personally, ministerially, academically and professionally. Today, as I found a spot near his tomb under the mosaic of the Death of St. Jerome, I noticed that the candles were lit at the altar [see the photo], reminding us, of course, that today is the Feast of St. Jerome on the Latin calendar. As I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, however, something else struck me.
Pope John died nearly 50 years ago. Those people who remember him and the events of his papacy (1958-1963) are now getting old (he himself once remarked, when he turned 60, that 60 was the age at which we begin to be old!). But something remarkable has always amazed me, and this visit was no exception. See, after you enter St. Peter's and work your way down the right hand side of the Basilica, the first big gathering spot for tourists is Michelangelo's famous Pieta "just inside" the front door; and now the next big stop is the new tomb of Pope John Paul II. Then you come to the tomb of John XXIII. Here's what amazed me: There were perhaps 200 people admiring the Pieta, and perhaps 100 or so at the tomb of John Paul II. But, in the hour I was there, a steady stream of pilgrims filed by John's tomb. I lost count after a couple of hundred, and the stream kept going. In fact, there were three security guards posted there to keep the crowd moving, quiet and prayerful. The memory of this holy man is still so strong and vibrant nearly 50 years after his death! He was able, in his quiet joy-filled way, to touch the hearts, souls and imaginations of the entire world, and his pastoral leadership style enabled the bishops of the world to rejuvenate the Church at the Council.
As I prepared to leave, I approached one of the security guards and thanked him for his efforts. He smiled and said, "Ah, deacon, good Pope John still lives!" And so he does. . . .