By Helena Rodriguez: PNT columnist
When we lived in Abilene, Texas, my daughter, Laura, called me from a youth conference at the archdiocese in San Angelo and excitedly exclaimed, “I met The Pope!”
I was like “What?” and then I started rolling in laughter. When I told this to my friend, Debra Vasquez, who was the religious education director at our church, she nearly died of laughter, too.
“No, that couldn’t have been The Pope,” I told Laura. “There would have been thousands of people there,” I said as I recalled a news story in 2002 when hundreds of thousands of people attended World Youth Day in Denver just to see John Paul II. The man Laura met in San Angelo that day was the bishop, Michael D. Pfeifer.
Bishop, Pope, what’s the difference to a teenager? He was an important looking man with an odd-shaped hat.
But shortly after, I placed a framed photo of Pope John Paul II in Laura’s bedroom and he became much more to her than just another man in a funny hat. He holds a special place in of our hearts, and in this day and age, when so many teenagers idolize self-absorbed, hip-hop and rap singers and money-hungry athletes trying to sell them a pair of sneakers for $200, teens can use more positive male role models.
Pope John Paul II was just that.
I was ecstatic last weekend when Laura saw me cutting out a huge color photo of Pope John Paul II from the Sunday newspaper, and she wanted it. I offered to laminate it for her. Then I pulled out the special book Laura bought me, “The Private Prayers of Pope John Paul II: Words of Inspiration,” and read it.
What I loved most about the pope was his love for the Virgin Mary, an often misunderstood practice and a major factor which the Rev. Pat Roberson of the Christian Broadcasting Network said distinguishes Protestants from Catholics. Ironically, if anyone was able to blur the line between Protestants and Catholics, it was John Paul II.
In is own words, Robertson said of Pope John Paul II “…His personal magnetism brought together all Christians in new bonds of understanding…” And The Rev. Billy Graham said John Paul II was “the most influential voice for morality and peace in the world in the last 100 years.” In fact, John Paul II was not afraid to tactfully speak out against the war in Iraq right in front of President Bush.
John Paul II renewed his devotion to the Virgin Mary after he was shot on May 13, 1981, which happened to be the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the anniversary of the date the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared to three children in Portugal. Incredibly, the bullet just missed the pope’s heart, hitting instead a Virgin Mary medal he wore. In 2000, John Paul II then consecrated the world to Mary and in 2002, he canonized an Indian peasant, Juan Diego, the first person to have reportedly seen Our Lady of Guadalupe, or the Virgin Mary, in Mexico.
When the sex abuse scandal rocked the Catholic church a few years ago, some critics said it was the beginning of the end of the world’s oldest Christian organization. But with the evangelizing spirit of John Paul II as well as his breaking down of religious barriers, I don’t think that will happen. It will be critical, however, for the church to pick a new pope of high integrity, faith and vision; one who will also lead by example. This will not be an easy robe to fill.
Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: