On Sunday April 27th, 2014, on the second Sunday of Easter on which the Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday, two living popes were present at the canonization Mass for two popes!! I had the great privilege and honor to travel to Rome to be present for this historic and momentous occasion.

Two living popes

Being a true “John Paul II generation Catholic,” JPII was the only pope I knew the first twenty some years of my life. And, although I never met him in person, I was profoundly affected by his person.

I vividly remember being a 9-year-old girl glued to the TV watching JPII interact with the youth from all over the world at World Youth Day in Denver, Colorado in 1993. JPII captivated me. Somehow, he knew me. He loved me. He challenged me.

JPII enkindled the call in my heart from God to “Be not Afraid” and to make Jesus the center of my life and to put my life in the service of the Gospel. He inspired me to truly desire to become who I was meant to be and to set the world on fire, as St. Catherine of Siena is known for saying!

I felt called to be part of the new springtime of the Church. At a very young age I made a decision to live my life, my youth in particular, in service of the Church. Now, twenty years later, I look back at everything and all I can say is thank you, thank you to JPII for his love, his witness, his courage; the challenge he gave to me and all youth and of course for his radical love of Jesus that inspired me. I don’t regret a moment of living my life for the Lord!

In light of all of this, I felt compelled to make the crazy pilgrimage to Rome with hundreds of thousands of others for JPII & John XXIII’s canonization. I arrived in Rome a week before the canonization in time to celebrate the Easter Triduum with the Emmanuel School of Mission. On Easter Sunday, I attended Mass on St. Peter’s Square with a group of Australian friends I met through the Emmanuel Community. We had all planned to be present for the canonization a week later. But, the reality that ONLY less than 100,000 pilgrims could actually fit on St Peter’s Square and that a couple million pilgrims were estimated to come to the canonization Mass was starting to sink in. It became apparent that actually making it onto St Peter’s Square for the canonization was a wild dream! It was hard to not be a bit downcast.

At the end of Mass on Easter Sunday, one of my friends suggested that we entrust this pilgrimage and the desire to be at the canonization Mass to Jesus through the Blessed Mother. So, the seven of us prayed together, that all seven of us would be reunited in one week at the canonization Mass at that very same spot on St. Peter’s Square. We prayed a Hail Mary.

imageWith each day that lead up to the canonization, the streets of Rome filled up with more and more pilgrims for all over the world… I spent time with friends trying to strategize and make the best plan for the canonization. But quite honestly, the thought of actually making it onto St. Peters Square seemed nearly impossible!   The word on the street was that the most reasonable approach was to acknowledge the reality of the situation and just camp out at one of the satellite sites set up throughout the city of Rome near a big screen TV so we could actually watch and follow the Mass. It was rumored that to even get a place at one of those sites you would have to camp out in advance to claim your spot.

It seemed to be the most reasonable approach. But, if I was ready to just settle for watching the canonization on TV, I should have just stayed in Philadelphia, saved lots of money and watched it from the comfort of my own home!  I had come all the way to Rome to attend this event; I decided that I needed to at least try to get on the square! At least if I failed, I would have known that I had done my best and that it just wasn’t meant to be.

In the end, the whole group I was on pilgrimage with (which had now grown to thirteen) had the same thought! Realizing that the risk of trying to make it on the Square was that we might be stuck on some side street far from St Peter’s without being able to see or hear a thing was still not enough to deter us. We would take our chances!!

The twenty-four hours before the canonization were a whirlwind. Somehow, by the grace of God, NOT due to any of our human planning/strategizing, my friends and I happened be at the right place, at the right time, which allowed us to camp out precisely where we would be a part of that very limited group who would actually make it onto St. Peter’s Square for the canonization Mass! (see first two pictures below).

The way the whole thing played out is another very long story. In short, the seven of us who had prayed together on Easter Sunday, did indeed make it onto the square together (with our six additional friends) for the Canonization Mass….and we sat in the very same spot! (see third picture below).

It may all sound a bit dramatic, but it was quite a miracle! It was a concrete answer to our prayer; in such a little, tiny, truly insignificant way. Yet, through this little gift, I can’t help but be reminded that God is indeed our loving Heavenly Father. He is worthy of our trust. He is ever faithful. His ways are always better than our ways. He does listen to our prayers. He wants us to trust Him and to ask Him for what we need and want… even if it is something silly or little! God can take care of and arrange even the smallest of details in the smallest matters of our lives. If He does this, why wouldn’t He arrange the details for the bigger issues in life?

This whole event has brought one of my favorite verses from Holy Scripture back to mind: “Delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4.

I thank the good Lord for the gift of of Saint John Paul II in my life and for the gift of his life for the whole Church! Once again, my beloved JPII has drawn me outside of myself and into a more intimate and trusting relationship with my heavenly Father.

Saint John Paul II and Saint John XXIII, pray for us!!

Written by: Cristina Barba, Director of GenLife (visit www.generationlife.org)

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