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BY FATHER ALFONSO AGUILAR, LCRegister Correspondent
The multiform, light-blue clouds filtered the sunrays of a bright,
beautiful sky. Pope John Paul II’s last day at the Gemelli hospital coincided
with Rome’s first actual spring day after a harsh winter.
The winter of suffering always leads to the springtime of spiritual joy
Together with 480 seminarians and priests of the Legionaries of Christ,
I went to see the Pope at the hospital on March 13. On the little hill of the
hospital’s large property, clusters of journalists patiently stood or sat,
surrounded by TV vans, satellite dishes and temporary camera platforms.
“In these days of hospitalization here at the Gemelli, I notice in a
particular way the presence and attention of so many agents of the mass media,”
the Holy Father wrote in that day’s midday meditation. “Today I wish to address
a word of gratitude to them, because I know that they carry out — not without
sacrifice — their appreciated service, thanks to which the faithful, in all
parts of the world, can feel me closer and support me with affection and
When photographers saw hundreds of young men wearing black suits and
clerical collars, they put their cameras to work. They were mining their gold.
By 11:45 a.m., hundreds of adults, young people and children occupied
the sidewalks of the hospital driveways. Five minutes later, we heard the deep
voice of Bruno Vespa, a well-known Italian anchorman, who was speaking on live
TV about the numerous pilgrims, diplomats, civil and religious leaders who had
paid visits to the hospitalized Pope in the last 18 days.
By noon, the Substitute of the Vatican Secretariat of State Archbishop
Leonardo Sandri read the message on the Holy Father’s behalf to pilgrims
gathered in St. Peter’s Square before the recitation of the Angelus. We heard
his voice through the loudspeakers on the hospital grounds.
After the papal message was read, we recited the Angelus in Latin and
received Archbishop Sandri’s blessing on the Holy Father’s behalf.
Then, we waited.
Our gazes were fixed on the hospital’s 10th floor. Would the Pope appear
at his window?
A few moments later, the window blinds were pulled aside. In the midst of
cheers and claps, John Paul appeared seated in an armchair, waving his hands
“Dear brothers and sisters, thank you for your visit,” the Holy Father
said, with a hoarse, but strong voice.
He uttered a few words in Polish to greet 50 pilgrims from Wadowice, who
came with their mayor, Ewa Filipiak, to bring him traditional Polish products
and an album of photographs of his native city.
“Greetings to the Legionaries of Christ,” the Pope added in Italian.
“Have a happy Sunday and a good week.”
John Paul opened his arms toward us. For a few minutes, he kept waving
his hands and giving us his blessing. There was no rush.
People’s faces looked transfigured. I saw a few adults silently
crying. “It was the best thing that
happened in my life,” said a Spanish woman from Pozuelo de Alarcón, a city
Cameramen and photographers shot their peaceful weapons quietly. People
clapped softly and waved their hands slowly. Someone dared to yell, “Viva il
Papa!” but cheers were limited and restrained.
People’s love for the Vicar of Christ is shown differently these days.
Gone were the days of huge crowds throwing confetti in the midst of noisy
cheers and colorful handkerchiefs, as when John Paul paraded on Manhattan’s
Fifth Avenue in 1979.
Nowadays, the way to connect with the Pope is quieter — and perhaps
deeper. It is the way old friends stay with one another, without saying much,
because they already know each other well. An old friend’s physical presence is
a way to say to his or her friend, “I don’t want you to ever die.”
That was the message people voiced to the Holy Father with their quiet
visit on that Sunday morning.
It was the same message thousands of Romans and tourists uttered by
lining the route between the hospital and St. Peter’s Square, when John Paul II
returned to the Vatican in a minivan a few hours later.
Silent tears, smiles and cheerful looks met the Pope’s silent gestures
from the minivan.
No need for words.
Approaching Holy Week, this type of love reminded me of that deep love
that bonded a man and his mother almost 2,000 years ago.
Jesus was mostly silent throughout his passion and death. His mother
Mary uttered no word. Yet both of them said much more with their silence than
they ever said with their preaching.
As we relive the mysteries of our redemption, we should incorporate that
type of deep love. Our silent tears might be the best way to express our love
for the voiceless Vicar of Christ.
Legionary of Christ Father Alfonso Aguilar teaches philosophy at Regina
Apostolorum University in Rome. firstname.lastname@example.org