IT seems that many non and lapsed Catholics are trying to understand why 1 million people have been prepared to wait up to 12 hours to see the body of the Pope, and why there are so many young people in the queue to see a man who was often portrayed as conservative and out of touch with today’s society.
For myself, losing the Pope was like losing the grandfather that I never met.
The last week has been quite an emotional time with many a tear shed.
I am a young Catholic who readily accepts the teachings of the Church and the Pope (though I struggle to live them out) and have only known one pope in my lifetime.
In an increasingly commercial and sceptical world the Pope was a great sign of counter-cultural hope and encouragement to youth.
He challenged us to live chastely before marriage and to not accept contraception in marriage.
He proved that there is so much more to life than what most youth are offered. John Paul was a very holy and humble man who strived for the dignity of the human being. He showed the dignity of the elderly by not stepping down from his position towards the end just because he was old and frail.
Many Catholic youth have seen from a distance that the sexual revolution has not made things better and the Pope and the Church were right all along — abortion and contraception are not the answers.
We are not trying to change the Church but to change ourselves. As Sydney’s Cardinal Pell recently said: “Catholic liberalism seems to be dying and there are only small pockets of Catholic radicals. It is hard to find a practising Catholic dissident under 50 years of age.”
I saw John Paul on four occasions, including travelling 500 kms for his 1986 visit to Brisbane when I was 10.
The most memorable occasion was at World Youth Day in 2000 in Rome where 2.2 million attended. This event is being mentioned in relation to planning the huge logistics involved in the Friday funeral.
During that week in Rome we slept on the bare marble floors of schools (no makeshift beds for us), in our case well outside Rome, and used makeshift freezing, cold showers that had been cobbled together outside. The final open-air Mass was attended by 2.2 million young people on a record hot 40-plus degrees Celsius day.
We had to carry our food (which was very similar to army rations) along with our own water for 10 km in the heat and the crowds.
But, despite all this, it was one of the best days of my life.
Most people couldn’t even see the altar and watched on large screens. ( I think because we had come all the way from Australia we were given a spot where we could at least see the altar/stage in the distance.)
The 80 year-old Pope was visibly moved to tears himself at the prayer service on the night before the Mass (we slept out overnight) as he joined in with the enthusiasm of the young people and was energised by the atmosphere.
The crowd chanted ‘JP 2 we love you!’ and he replied, ‘John Paul II, he loves you’.
Though the Pope was tired, he obviously gained energy from the young people, laughing and smiling as they cheered and chanted.
And again on this occasion his message was provocative: ‘When you return home, do not grow lax. Reinforce and deepen your bond with the Christian communities to which you belong.
‘From Rome, from the City of Peter and Paul, the Pope follows you with affection and, paraphrasing St Catherine of Siena’s words, reminds you: “If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze!”
World Youth Day in Germany this year had been the only event outside of Italy on the Pope’s program for the year.
Pope John Paul gave his all to us right up to the end. It doesn’t seem too much to show our love and support for the Pope by standing in line at St Peter’s to give our final respects in person.
It is only now that much of the Western world is realising through this outpouring of love and affection the impact that this holy man has on so many and has been having for over 20 years.