I can’t quite believe it has been four years since the death of Pope John Paul II.
It was in the year leading up to the final days of his life when I was reconciled with Mother Church and, like many others, I was encouraged and heartened by the Pope’s own witness to the faith and the Lord whom he loved. There was a very brief period when nearly the whole world, Catholic and non-Catholic joined in mourning as they saw this man – who had held the keys of Peter for a quarter of a century – slip painfully away to the Father.
His reign being so long, people my age and a little older will have known only one Pope. We didn’t understand perhaps the idea that this man, the Pope, would actually die. This realisation was shocking for some. His love for God and God’s people meant he was loved in return, and they united their pain with his in those last weeks and days.
I remember turning on the TV that evening and seeing the news scenes from a silent St Peter’s square. Without any introduction, I knew what had happened, and I wept at the death of an old man, who I had never met, who I had never heard speak more than a couple of words in my language. I didn’t know who he was, what he was like, how he thought, but still I felt a fidelity to him. It is a feeling which is difficult to explain to some people on occasion, but it simply is a feature of the Catholic family.
Watching the world’s faithful – and non-faithful – come and pray before his body in the days of mourning showed me that the Catholicism of which I was a part was much greater than my own experience thus far. It was greater than my parish Church, my parish priest, my pictures and books. It is a living faith, a breathing religion – and the Church is young.