Sunday, April 27, 2014


We take a break today from crafting to reflect on a great day and to reflect on the life of the great St. John Paul II.  Today, Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope John Paul II is being canonized a Saint.
Sometimes one looks back on one's life and milestones are highlighted.  Well, today I remember one of the greatest events of my life - a milestone of sorts - the day I met a living saint - Pope John Paul II.  My husband and I were living in a town-home in Columbia Maryland in 1995. I was in fellowship training for Neonatal Medicine at Johns Hopkins and my husband Bill was working for the government.   It was a rainy cold night in February when we hesitatingly trekked out in the freezing rain to hear Archbishop Cardinal Keeler speak about the Archbishop Annual Appeal in Baltimore.  We almost didn't go and history would have been rewritten for us.  Something - the Holy Spirit I believe - changed our minds about going so that we would hear the Cardinal speak.  After the awesome presentation, my husband nudged me to tell Cardinal Keeler that we would love an audience with Pope John Paul II one day.  Sheepishly, I agreed to approach the Cardinal and tell him that very fact.  He was so impressed with my vocation and what I was training for.  When I asked him about meeting the Pope, he said happily "Well, I'm going to Rome in May, why don't you come along?"  What????? went through my mind. I didn't know what to say.  I didn't think it would be that soon.  I didn't know what to say but something crazy like "I don't know if I can get off call in the NICU then."  And as luck would have it...I was scheduled to be on in the NICU then.  My husband thought that I totally blew a great opportunity.  I went back to work the next day and told my advisor that I was invited to go to Rome, and she said "of course, we will make that happen.  You are going to meet a Head of State!"  Wow!  Awesome, I thought!  My colleagues were more than willing to switch call days with me.  However, there was one hurdle...we didn't have the money to go.  Yikes!  What were we going to do. Well, my husband wasn't going to let that stop us.  He had just filed the taxes and that particular year was one of the first years that we received a refund, and you know what....miraculously, it was just about the right amount of money to go to Rome.  Wow!  So we called the Archdiocese and booked the pilgrimage with Cardinal Keeler to head to Rome.What a gift.
So, I didn't really think we would do more than have a large general audience with the Pope when we arrived.  That was all we really wanted and expected. May came and we were off to Rome.  The trip was outstanding.  Every day we were able to participate in mass and receive holy communion in a special church in Rome.  We saw the Rome of the Popes and the Rome of Caesar.  It was an incredible trip and a trip of a lifetime.  When the day came for our audience with the Pope (May 1, 1995), we were beyond excited.  We expected to be out in the square at the Vatican about a mile away from the Pope.  On the way to the audience, the pilgrimage group we were with asked to stop to purchase some religious articles like rosaries and medals for the Pope to bless.  Our current pastor, Father Michael White, was the Cardinal's secretary at the time.  He was in charge of keeping us to task on the pilgrimage. I remember Cardinal Keeler telling everyone they could stop at a local shop.  Father White was not particularly enthused with the idea because we would not be keeping to the schedule. Cardinal Keeler must have told Fr. White to lighten the schedule a bit, because we had at least 1/2 hour or so to purchase some religious items.  Afterwards, we continued on to the Vatican and instead of finding an area outside to wait in, we were escorted inside.  Woa!  What was happening?  Could we actually be going to see Pope John Paul II inside the Vatican?  We were taken inside to areas very few visitors traverse.  Up many stairs marveling along the way and wondering where we were headed.  We were headed to a private room that accompanied just those on our pilgrimage.  OMG!  I couldn't believe where we were.  I nudged my husband to get as close to the front as we could.  I saw a chair for the Pope up in the front and I wanted to see him as best as I could because I heard he was not much taller than me (I'm 5'3"). As I made my way toward the front, my husband took my arm and said "Maria, we need to sit over here."  Well it was several rows back and I was pretty disappointed because many others then ran for the front row.  Oh well, I thought, I'm lucky just to be in this room.  Shortly after we were all at our seats, we were asked to stand up and within moments, I could feel the power of the Holy Spirit and I just trembled.  The Pope had entered the room from my left.  I was in a section on the right, maybe 5 or more rows back.  I couldn't see anything, but I could feel the presence of the Pope.  I knew he was in the room.  Then, something even more amazing happened.  Pope John Paul II walked to the center of the aisle and started to walk down on the right side across from us and he began to greet everyone on the end of a row.  Wow!  The Pope was getting close.  Then when he finished that side, he turned around and headed up the side I was on.  He stopped and greeted everyone.  My husband had strategically placed me on the end of the aisle rather than in the front row.  Had I been in the front, I would have never actually met the Pope.  Instead, I was right there and the Pope embraced me.  Cardinal Keeler was amazing.  He had over 100 people on the pilgrimage from Baltimore, and he hardly knew who we were, but he remembered my name and that I was a young physician in training at JHH, and that's how he introduced Bill and I to Pope John Paul II.  I remember the day as if it were yesterday.  I was overcome with the Holy Spirit and I just trembled and cried.  The Pope - a living Saint - who loved all and loved God and His Mother so much - was embracing me.  It was an incredible meeting.  As many know, Pope John Paul II has done so much for world peace and inter religious relations.  He is a true instrument of love that God has used on earth and now in heaven, to bring many to Him.  I will never ever forget that amazing day.  My husband and I were overjoyed and overcome. After, the Pope finished the greetings, he went up to the center and he spoke to us.  I don't remember all that he said, as I was in total awe.  I do remember, my husband giving Cardinal Keeler an Orioles baseball cap for the Pope, and we had a banner we made with the words "Pope John Paul II, we love you." I remember our meeting was televised back to Baltimore and our friends and family were so excited to see us and so happy about our meeting the Pope - they saw us and our banner.  Today, I pray a lot and I ask Pope John Paul - now St. John Paul, to continue to ask God to bless my life and the lives of all of my family members and friends.  Most of all, my husband and I pray for world peace and for the end of injustices against the poor, especially against women and children. We pray too, for the work of the current Pope Francis, and for the continued work of Archbishop William Cardinal Keeler. At the time of our visit to Rome to meet the Pope, Bill and I did not have a child.  We had been trying for years and had no luck.  We promised ourselves when we met the Pope that if we ever had a son, we would name him after the Pope, because we would want our son to live a life like the Pope and love all people and do something amazing in his life.  Well, not much longer after that, maybe a few years, we finally had our son and yes, we did name him John Paul.  Even in the NICU where he was born (he was 8 weeks early) the staff especially the nurses would say..."I don't know what it is about this child, but I have a feeling he will do something great."  When JP was 3 we had the opportunity to take another pilgrimage to Rome to have an audience with Pope John Paul II.   This visit we took JP and although it was a larger audience with the Pope, JP got pretty close to seeing his namesake - within feet.  Now as JP is getting ready for his Confirmation, to proclaim his loyalty to Christ, we pray that he will emulate his namesake and take on the adult Christian role God asks of him. 

These are scrapbook pages commemorating our trip to Rome to the Vatican to see Pope John Paul II on his 25th anniversary as the Pope.  John Paul is pictured in the top left hand corner with Cardinal Keeler placing his cap on JP - feeling truly blessed.
JP is with Bill looking on as the Pope gets ready to bless all of us. We were very close to him yet again, and this time JP was there.

Today, Pope John Paul II is being canonized a saint alongside Pope John the 23rd, another great Pope.  Pope Francis is doing the canonization where Pope John Paul II is being proclaimed a saint.  If you get a chance watch the news today, please do so.  It sure will prove to be an inspiring day.'s DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY, which is the day that Pope John Paul proclaimed a holy day.  On this day, Our Lord's Divine Mercy Sunday grants forgiveness of all sins and punishment on the Feast of Divine Mercy, Mercy Sunday, mercy for even the most hardened sinners! It is the Sunday of Divine Mercy, the Feast of Mercy!  Divine Mercy Sunday this year is April 27th, 2014.  Read more about Divine Mercy Sunday here.

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