Monday, April 18, 2005

Farewell Papa!

Published April 18, 2005

As Catholics, watching the Pope hover near death and finally succumb was a painful experience. He was a member of our family. One tends to hold fast to those they love as they near the end of their journey on earth. My parish offered a solemn High Requiem Mass for the pontiff. Three local television stations covered it. It might as well have been my father in the catafalque. He was special. He was our “papa”. I’ve written extensively on my own experience and chance meeting with the Holy Father in 2001, one that I look back now as being miraculous due to the nature and circumstance of his schedule, my own insignificance and his declining health. The conclave commences today. I feel like an expectant child waiting for the Church to give birth to a new parent.
Vigorous in duty, diligent in suffering, faithful to the end, John Paul II left the earth on the eve of a Feast Day in the Church which was near and dear to his own heart, Divine Mercy Sunday. I watched the Poles in Krakow mourn their beloved father and I wished I could have been there with them. I saw in the faces of the faithful in St. Peter’s Square a gathering of sorrow and silent jubilation as they kept vigil through the night. I found it hard to sleep myself. I felt united to him in a spiritual way, unwilling to let go, “stay a little longer Holy Father and don’t leave us just yet”…he changed my life.
As a ‘cafeteria Catholic’ for many years, I sought to pick and choose what I wanted from my Faith and barely practiced what I had selectively believed to be true. John Paul II came on the scene as almost a dove in a tumultuous time of Church History and shook us out of our collective sleep. He challenged Catholics to armor themselves with the doctrine handed down from Christ and his Apostles and he made us look our Tradition in the face and embrace it. I suddenly fell in love with my Faith, returning to all the sacraments and devotions with greater fervor than before and finding myself in a position to defend my faith like never before. It was because of this strong and frail Shepherd, this beacon who lived the Gospel and took it around the earth 29 times, that I found myself proud to be a Roman Catholic.
When the scandal of clerical sexual abuse hit the Church recently, I remember many people, my friends including non-Catholics, say to me “see, how can you believe now?” It was simple. I believed in my Faith more than ever. I saw this as God cleaning house in His Church, and I supported it. The Church is filled with many sinners and many saints. It was time for the sinners to ante up. No secrets there. It was a relief. Perhaps opening the windows and letting in some fresh air would be just what the Church needed and how. He proved to us that no matter how hard the line would be there was no defectability in that which the Church held as inherently true, even if it meant his own pain and suffering. His life was a complete oblation of self. He shook up a confused and sleeping Church and rocked the geopolitical landscape like no other figure in the 20th century. Slowacki, the polish poet of the late 19th century prophesied his papacy 100 years before he was elected. Karol Wojtyla, a scholar, athlete, poet, actor, theologian, laborer, priest, bishop, cardinal and pontiff had one of the most impressive resumes in all of human history.
He was popular because he loved greatly and magnificently those whom the world deemed unlovable. He opened up the doors of Vatican City in a way no previous Pontiff had done in history. He wrote and wrote. He prayed and prayed. He suffered. In the end he left the world, dignified in his final agony and completely united to us. It’s hard to let him go. As the conclave begins today, speculations about the next pope are left to everyone outside the Sistine Chapel. Bells will toll when the new pope is elected and white smoke will rise through the streets of Vatican City. Like a dove, the new pontiff, unknown to us now, will step onto the world stage as the new Papa. How humble it will be to serve the Servants of God.
Farewell Karol, our papa. You showed us a higher way to live.
Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at

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