Since his return to the hospital on Feb. 24, where he underwent a tracheotomy to relieve breathing problems, Pope John Paul II has been deluged with e-mails from around the world, with letters arriving in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German and his native Polish, wishing him a speedy recovery.
If e-mails expressing love, support, understanding and prayers could cure what ails the Pope, he would have spent hours, not days in the hospital. Tens of thousands of letters have arrived since the Holy Father’s e-mail address (john_paul_ii@vatican).va appeared on the Vatican’s six-language website on March 1. In fact, according to statistics published by the Vatican’s Internet office, more than 40,000 e-mails arrived the first 10 days of March and, in one 36-hour period alone — from the morning of March 1 to noon of March 2 — nearly 21,000 letters were posted. More than half the total are written in English.
E-mails, however, are just a portion of the correspondence. Many letters, cards and even telegrams arrive at the various language desks of the Secretariat of State as well as to the heads of pontifical councils, congregations and other offices of the Roman Curia.
Letters arrive from doctors, nurses and other hospital employees, heads of volunteer organizations, families, students (from first graders to university students), religious congregations, pastors, parishioners, and senior-citizen organizations.
The majority are relatively short letters wishing the Holy Father well, telling him how much he is loved and admired as the leader of the Catholic Church, how his suffering is an example to all, or simply thanking him for all he has done and continues to do for the Church, especially in promoting the value of human life and human dignity. Some are longer and recount personal experiences of ill health, physical and mental suffering or personal conversions.
The missives, whether brief or lengthy, are occasionally humorous, often poignant and always heartwarming. Like the letter in Portuguese that began: “My very dear friend John: You don’t know me, but I have taken the liberty of calling you ‘friend.’ Because a friend is the brother that God gave us to listen to, to accompany us and whom we can admire as a person. I listen to you as an example of devotion, courage and strength.”
A writer from Italy told John Paul II: “You are our father on this earth. We need you! We need your witness as it gives strength to each one of us.” A youth in Brazil told the Pope he hopes he gets better soon so that “you can be with us in Cologne (for World Youth Day) and can continue to lead the holy Church for many more years.” Another Brazilian thanked the Holy Father for “being God’s living witness on earth.”
One American wrote simply: “Thank you for your example of holiness.” And another: “We love you! Thank you for sacrificing and praying for us as well as keeping us in our faith!”
One woman, opening her heart to the Holy Father about her return to the Church, said she has “been getting reacquainted with God” after “taking the wrong road” for many years. “I have been hearing about your illness, and I am very sad for you. But I will pray to God that he may take away your pain and suffering.” Another lady wrote: “It is a blessing to be able to speak to you and to assure you that the world is praying for you.”
A Kenyan told the Pope he hopes that, “through the intercession of Our Mother [you may] carry cheerfully the blessed weight of your ministry. How much you encourage us as we struggle in our day-to-day life to be ever faithful to God. What a witness that spurs me on to greater desires for sanctity.”
“I work in a hospital,” wrote a Maltese woman, “and I know what you are going through at this particular time of your life. Every day I pray to the Lord to give wisdom, patience and strength to the medical personnel and paramedics who come into contact with patients, that they will see in each person the suffering Lord. For the patients, I pray that the Lord gives them courage and serenity to overcome any pain and to bear difficulties they encounter during their illness.”
A couple, both doctors, began their letter: “Holiness, it is certainly ingenuous to think that this e-mail will actually reach you. However, we still want to write you ... and let you know we are praying for you.”
They told of their desire to have a child, “a gift from God,” and their many difficulties. “When we thought all was lost, my wife dreamed of you one night, and shortly after that we had the joy of discovering we would become parents. ... Every time I hold my daughter, I think ‘How great God is!”
Joan Lewis works for
Vatican Information Service.