Popes John XXIII and John Paul II will be declared Saints of the Catholic Church this Sunday – 27 April 2014. Pope Francis had announced in July 2013 that he would canonize two of the 20th century’s most influential popes together.
Millions of Catholics all over the world have been inspired by both these Holy Fathers who brought reform and a zeal for evangelization into the Catholic Church. Pope John XXIII was responsible for setting up the Vatican II Council. In his short 4 1/2 year papacy, Pope John XXIII was greatly loved as the “Good Pope” for his simple, pastoral and fatherly love in dealing with the Catholic faithful. Yet Pope John XXIII had a sharp mind and was a top Vatican diplomat handling difficult assignments prior to his papacy.
Pope John Paul II brought the papacy to the world stage through his charismatic and courageous personality, love for the Youths through International World Youth Days and for spearheading the New Evangelization efforts within the Catholic Church for a dynamic and Christ-centred life among all Catholics – young and old alike. In his final years and death, His Holiness exemplified with great personal dignity what it means to accept suffering from the Hands of God and to continue to serve Jesus with immense courage.
Today, as Pope John Paul II is being canonized as a Holy Saint of our Catholic Church, I wish to share my very own personal experience with this inspirational Holy Father who has made an indelible and deep influence upon my priesthood and my personal Catholic faith. To this day, I recall and practice with greatest love what I learnt from this Great Pope.
In 1979, I was sent to Rome as a young priest to study for my Doctorate in Philosophy at the Gregorian University. I wanted very much to meet Pope John Paul II and had written to the Vatican Papal Office for a personal meeting. To my great joy, I received a letter that I could have this opportunity in early December 1979. I was very excited and filled with joy! However, just a day before that, I received a telegram that left me extremely distressed and disturbed. My elder sister, who was a nun, was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and given less than 6 months to live – she was too weak for further treatment! I received a second telegram a little later saying that my sister, Sr. Simbrose, was slipping in an out of a coma.
In those days, it was practically impossible to make telephone calls between Italy and India. The telephone landlines were practically non-existent and there were no mobile phones yet. What is more, as a student, I could not afford the airfare to fly back to see my sister. I kept recalling the words my much beloved sister had told me at the airport –“Augustine, study well and come back to us in India as soon as possible. We are waiting for you.” All I could think of was that I would never again see my sister and there would be no way I could even go back for her funeral.
With this great sorrow and burden in my heart, I went the next day to meet Pope John Paul II. As the Holy Father was nearing towards me, greeting those near to me, I was overwhelmed with tears of sadness meeting the Holy Father. Pope John Paul II spoke in the special way he had. Pronouncing every English word distinctly he said, “Young priest, why are you sad?” With tears rolling down from my eyes, I said, “Holy Father, my sister is dying of cancer.” Pope John Paul II closed his eyes praying and then looked at me, “Tell your sister the Pope is praying for her.” He then told me these words,“This sickness is not to end in death but in the manifestation of the Glory of God.” I immediately recognized this as the Word of God from the Gospel of John 11:4. His Holiness smiled at me, held me around my shoulders and said, “Your sister will not die.” And my sister did not die – she lived for another 28 more years!
The first lesson I learnt when I later prayed over this special meeting with Pope John Paul II is to learn to close my eyes and pray. In every situation of our life, God has a Word to give us. When we wait for a Word of God, we will hear God’s Voice speaking to us to comfort us. Jesus is the Word of God! Happiness in life is to hear the Word of God.
The second important lesson I learnt was that any pain, struggles and sufferings offered to our God, Jesus takes charge! When Jesus takes full authority and control, Jesus makes good out of all situations and circumstances of our life. I understood what it meant “to take up the cross and follow me”. I need to look at the Face of Jesus and He will take all the pain of our sufferings.
On that December day in 1979 now over 34 years ago, I learnt a great lesson of the mystery of our faith from Saint Pope John Paul II which I have never forgotten. We need to turn to Jesus in our moments of distress not to other people. Let Jesus enter our life! God is greater that any problem in our life.
I always remember the words of St. Peter. “Rejoice when sufferings come your way because you are being given a share in the Cross of Jesus Christ!” (1 Peter 4:13)
Only a Christian can say that because our God is a Crucified Lord!
Saint Pope John Paul II has been an inspiration to me throughout my priesthood, my life and in the growth of our Divine-Potta Ministry.
Yours lovingly in Christ
Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran V.C.