What This Man Means to Me

By the grace of God, he keeps going and going and …

The man we know as Pope John Paul II began leading souls to Christ even before he was ordained a priest. That was back in 1946, when he was 26 years old.

On May 18, the Holy Father will celebrate his 84th birthday — and so will the Register. Cake and ice cream being out of the question, we sent our reporter to ask a sampling of well-known Catholic well-wishers: What impact has the Holy Father made on your life? Here's how they responded.

Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts: “Pope John Paul II is the person in the world I most admire. What I especially admire is his embodiment of the fullness of the Catholic vision and character. As a poet I am personally both astonished and gratified to see my own art so nobly reflected in the greatest papacy of the modern era. What a blessing this Pope is. The presence of John Paul in the world today restores one's faith in divine providence. Imperfect as we are, we all need our faith restored.”

Camille de Blasi, president and founder of Healing the Culture: “First of all, I'm a lousy sufferer, and I often stand at the front of the ‘poor-excuse-for-a-Christian’ line when it comes to facing trouble or difficulty. I've been very humbled by the beautiful example of Pope John Paul II in his illness as he slowly breaks down my brick wall and teaches me what it means to ‘suffer well.’ Secondly, he is having a profound effect on our professional mission through his call to promote and defend the dignity of women. I believe if every woman understood what it means to be a woman, we'd see the collapse of the culture of death overnight. The writings of our Pope on the ‘genius of woman’ have completely transformed the way we approach the life issues at Healing the Culture.”

Cathy Cleaver Ruse, director of planning and information for the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Even more than his writings, by the example of his own life, Pope John Paul II has inspired millions to build a culture of life. Here's a man who speaks of love as our vocation against death, and that is somewhat of a miracle, given his own life. He survived the two great death machines of the 20th century: Nazi Germany and communism. He personally escaped death from the bullet of a gun. Many believe, as I believe, he was saved to be a witness of love in the culture of death. He is inspiration personified for my work in the pro-life movements.”

Russell Shaw, author and journalist: “He's provided a whole and almost new way of thinking about the laity and a significantly updated framework for their life and activity as members of the Church. The outstanding document is the 1988 apostolic exhortation Christifideli Laici — a beautiful, important and difficult document, but worth the work it takes. It's a goldmine of insights and motivation for lay people for living the Catholic faith. It made a great difference to me in my personal and professional life. What I've written on the laity has been derived from John Paul II. It's the major source. I turn to the Pope as a source not just now and then, but constantly.”

Marie Bellet, singer, songwriter and mother of eight: “He has put a very gentle and loving face of unconditional love on the Catholic Church, which gives me a lot of hope and strengthens my desire to pray for the Church and be the best Catholic I can be. It's not undemanding and unchallenging love. He somehow puts a face on the love of God, and I think that's why he's such a witness to hope. He touches people's hearts and reminds them again of what they hoped was true, that God is love.

“And I really appreciate as well his belief in the arts as a way to touch people's hearts and a way to capture their imagination. I love the CD he put out. He starts out, ‘Put out into the deep. Be not afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity.’ I think that speaks to everybody.”

Father Mitch Pacwa, Jesuit author and host of “EWTN Live”: “He keeps me working! I'm doing a series on ETWN called ‘Threshold of Hope.’ I'm going through John Paul's encyclicals very much line by line, trying to work through the meaning of what he's trying to say. We don't want people to be John Paul cheerleaders, we want them to be John Paul readers. A lot of people who love John Paul don't read what he says. What I'm trying to do is encourage people to read the texts. He's offering us a tremendous vision for our lives. That certainly has given me a direction in what I want to teach on television.”

Deal Hudson, editor and publisher of Crisis magazine: “His preaching on the gift of self led me to adopt a young boy from Romania two and a half years ago. His name is Cyprian. And the gift of Cyprian has transformed my life and the life of my family.”

Raymond Arroyo, news director for EWTN: “He has taught me and showed us all the redemptive power of suffering and has reconciled for the world a spiritual balance between temporal works and true Christian mysticism. Even in his weakened state today, he remains a powerful sign of assurance and strength for so many. We saw him stride upon the world in his full vigor and we've also seen him die shamelessly before our eyes. And that witness is unique and extremely potent. He restored the masculine to Christianity. John Paul taught us how to be men and the proper role of men in the faith. To me he really is Peter. And in some way will always be.”

Mary Beth Bonacci, author, speaker, and founder of Real Love Productions: “Everything I do, everything in my chastity work, in my message, in what I write, in the talks I do, is based on Pope John Paul II's theology of the body. His catechesis on love and sex is revolutionary. It's beautiful. It's positive. And people actually like hearing about chastity when you put it in those terms.”

Karl Keating, president of Catholic Answers: “He has demonstrated a capacity to encourage zeal in young people. And that has given people of the next generation, people like myself, a shot of confidence in the short-term future of the Church. For those of us who lived through the years after Vatican II, it's gratifying to see young people becoming ‘John Paul II Catholics.’”

Father Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life: “I have personally felt called to [help] end abortion. This Pope has just profoundly reinforced that calling for me — by my personal contacts with him and by his personal ministry, in which he has put this issue front and center for the whole Church. He's been a great model and inspiration to me.

“When I started with Priests for Life in 1993, I began a nonstop journey throughout the country meeting people and ministering to them. Clearly to me the heart of pastoral ministry is personal presence, to be with the people you're serving. John Paul has traveled more than any other pope. He believes in the same thing, the irreplaceable role of personal presence as the spiritual shepherd. That has very much shaped my own ministry.”

Joseph Pronechen writes from Trumbull, Connecticut.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.