Fifteen years ago today, the world saw John Paul II for the last time. He came to his window at the time of his usual Wednesday Audience to greet the crowd. I was there. And these were my thoughts, published shortly after in our diocesan newspaper:
After joining the hundreds of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the Holy Father’s Urbi et Orbi blessing on Easter Sunday, I returned to the square on Wednesday hoping to see him again.
As we headed into the piazza, we all agreed that we would be very blessed if he would come to his window, especially since the following day we were leaving for Paris for the weekend. Since his hospital stay, the Holy Father’s public appearances had been suspended, but he still continued to come to his window on Sundays at noon for the Angelus and on Wednesdays around eleven (at the time of his usual large public audience in the square). When we entered the square, the large televisions had a message in Italian that the Holy Father would come to his window at eleven.
Around five after eleven, the Holy Father’s window opened and the crowd erupted in cheers. His arms seemed to be moving fairly freely, and he was blessing the crowd and waving. It wasn’t until I looked at the television and was able to see his face that I realized how much he was suffering. His appearance was short and everyone left in tears. His pain was evident, but he still came to his window to greet his flock. After years of telling us to “be not afraid,” he clearly did not fear death nor suffering. He wasn’t afraid to show his suffering to a world that has condemned suffering and forgotten the blessings attached to pain.
[On April 2], although I was in Paris while some of my classmates kept vigil in St.Peter’s Square… we were all tied to what was happening in the papal apartments through prayer. When the Holy Father passed away, I was gathered with hundreds of others in Sacre Coeur Basilica in Paris, where they have perpetual adoration. After a prayer service for the Holy Father, we celebrated the vigil for the Feast of Divine Mercy– less than twenty minutes after his death.
Every time I saw the Holy Father this semester, I told him goodbye in my heart. Each time, I never let myself hope to see him again. This Wednesday, we saw him for the last time. But I didn’t have to tell him goodbye. As hard as it is to accept, he is closer to us now than he ever was before. While he was alive, we all felt like he knew us individually. Now he does.