Here are some of the responses we received following our request for personal stories of John Paul:
“Years ago, I was fortunate to be at a Wednesday audience in the square. We were seated quite close to the Pope, and when our group name was called, we stood. Pope John Paul looked directly at us and gave us a forefinger-thumb salute. I made direct eye contact with him, and to this day I remember the joy and warmth that it brought to me. A moment never to be forgotten.” — Mary M. Murphy
John Paul II first visited the United States and said Mass in St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 6, 1979, the day I was born. Over 25 years later, while living in Washington, D.C., working on my MTS [Master of Theological Studies degree] at the John Paul II Institute, I found myself in St. Matthew’s Cathedral praying and mourning in front of a statue of JP2 on April 2, 2005, the day the good Pontiff died. His life and teachings have impacted my life and my formation in countless ways. In just a few weeks I will give birth to my second son, who, God willing, will be baptized on May 1, the beatification of John Paul the Great and Divine Mercy Sunday, and will be named Charles Joseph ‘Charlie’ after Karol Josef Wojtyla.” — Amy Stout
“In 1979, I worked in the media department of the Philadelphia Archdiocese and was charged with wrangling the press photographers for JP2’s visit to our city. I was a rebellious feminist, horribly sinful and arrogant at the time. In a receiving line to greet the Pope, the monsignors and bishops in the line next to me crashed to their knees to kiss John Paul’s papal ring. Alone of all in the line, I refused to kneel or otherwise acknowledge the Holy Father, except for a cold handshake. To this day, the memory of John Paul II’s face is crystal clear. He was deep in prayer, even as he greeted us. The rosary was in his hands. The impression was one of the deepest humility. He touched my hands and moved on. Had I but acknowledged then what I know now. This I know for sure: Karol Wojtyla enjoys the Beatific Vision and prays for us sinners remaining on the earth. Even me.” — Leslie Rabbitt
“I was in high school at the beginning of JP2’s pontificate. In the year 2000, I was blessed to lead a group from my church to World Youth Day in Rome. Again, in 2002, I was blessed to lead a group to World Youth Day in Toronto. Young people can see holiness faster than adults. JP2 only had to drive by in his white popemobile, and the young people cried. They could tell that he was authentic. By 2003, you could barely understand a word that he said because of his sickness. Yet the teens knew that he loved them: ‘JP2, we love you. JP2, we love you.’ He would say, ‘I love you more.’ He was a great example to me of someone who gave everything to God — every last ounce of energy and life. God gave it right back to him and more. ‘Do not be afraid.’ If only more Catholics would live our lives with this motto, we would change the world.” — Mark H.
“I’m a lifelong Catholic, and at 67 years of age, I’ve seen a few popes. But JP2, to me, was the clear leader of the world in morality, theology, etc. He had a charisma that affected me greatly, but his theology of the body is the teaching which I feel, in time, will change the world. He was brilliantly able to connect our sexuality with God, the Trinity and make all of life about proper relationships. I do believe he will have a positive effect on the world and Catholicism for centuries to come. His writings are very deep for me and all with average intelligence, but the rewards of being persistent in reading him and reading those who have studied him and can explain his teachings are well worth the effort.” — RDB
“His writings and example of life helped move me from being a half-hearted Catholic to an enthusiastic one. In particular, his encyclicals The Gospel of Life, The Church and the Eucharist and The Splendor of Truth made a huge difference in my life. I regret that I did not fully appreciate him until later in his pontificate. His dying hit me very hard. In fact, I was reading his encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Lord and Giver of Life, when the announcement came on TV that he died.” — Ron Bozek