I am so glad to be able to be witnessing this in my lifetime. There have been only five pontiffs in my lifetime starting with Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul I, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict VII, and Pope Francis. Pope John Paul II is my favorite.
When Pope John Paul I died suddenly and Pope John Paul II was installed into the papacy, I was still in elementary school. I read religious comics about his life as Karol Jozef Wojtyla. I had admired him since then and saw him first on his visit to the Philippines in 1981. Little did I know that I will develop pure admiration for this man and I had come to respect him more and more as the years went by. His effort to bridge other religions and the Catholic church is a giant leap to bring peace to the world. His devotion to the Blessed Mother is another trait that I have come to love.
When I first visited Italy in 1999, I didn’t expect an event that happened to me that was so special that to this day, I still tell the story to people I meet.
I had traveled with a friend to Rome and we toured Vatican City on our second day. We went to the usual places you visit in Rome like the Spanish Steps, Fontana de Trevi, St. Peter’s Basilica and so forth. However, since the city was preparing for the millennium celebration, most of the buildings were covered in scaffolding. We didn’t even get to visit the Sistine Chapel because it was closed. We went back to the hotel exhausted. I was so bummed that I didn’t get to go into St. Peter’s Basilica because we ran out of time.
The next day, I wanted to go back to visit St. Peter’s Basilica but my friend gave me an attitude saying that he saw everything he wanted to see. It pissed me off that I left him at the hotel, took the bus to St. Peter’s Square (mind you, this was my first time in Italy) and that’s when the miracle happened.
At the time, the currency in Italy was still in Lire – – so I purchased my bus ticket. Here’s my bus ticket and a 1000 Lire I kept as a keepsake.
I arrived at St. Peter’s Square only to find out that the whole Basilica was cordoned off and barricaded. There was a special event going on that day and nobody but the people with tickets can get into the Basilica. It was the canonization of St. Cirilo Beltran and beatification of eight other martyrs of the church. I was already disappointed that I was not going to be able to visit and witness the glory of St. Peter’s Basilica. It was cold and it was raining.
As I was standing there, a guard (who looked like a very young man) approached me as he noticed that I was just standing outside in the cold, staring at the Basilica.
He asked me, “Do you have a ticket?” I politely and sadly responded, “No, I do not.”
He gestured towards me with his right hand as if he wanted me to stop and said, “Wait. I will be back.”
I waited. When he returned, he handed me a ticket. A ticket that would allow me to attend the canonization of a saint and beatification of eight other martyrs. I was so overjoyed and couldn’t thank him enough. This was the ticket he handed me. And guess who was presiding?
As the mass celebration started, I noticed a gallantry of people dressed as Kings and Queens with jesters and soldiers. Apparently, this has been the tradition for centuries during canonization rites. I quickly took out my camera and before the procession began, I had pulled every single stranger I can pull to snap photos of me witnessing this event.
I attended the celebration. I was barely blocked by a huge wall in front of me but I managed to get close enough to snap the photo of Pope John Paul II from where I was standing. It was an experience of a lifetime.
Now, my favorite pope is going to become a saint. You know that I will be calling on him every time to intercede for me.
St. John Paul II – Pray for us.