A Papal Rosary for the ‘Rosary Pope’

VATICAN CITY — “At 9:37 p.m., our Holy Father returned to the Father’s house,” Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, substitute of the Secretariat of State, said to the 60,000 people who were reciting a second Rosary for the Pope in St. Peter’s Square on April 2, 2005.

A solemn, astonishing silence reigned over the square. We were petrified, processing the information.

The Salve Regina (Hail, Holy Queen) was intoned. Then, we clapped quietly but enthusiastically for a few minutes. Tears rolled down most faces. Nobody cried out loudly. Some people knelt down. The bells of St. Peter’s Basilica tolled slow, resounding strokes that mixed with the beatings of our hearts.

One year later on April 2, as I prayed the Rosary at 9 p.m. with Pope Benedict XVI and 100,000 faithful, I couldn’t but recall what I lived 12 months ago in the same square and at the same time.

This night was as mild and peaceful as the other one. With masterful illumination, the basilica’s facade stood out in beautiful contrast with the dark-blue sky. Dozens of Polish flags dotted the square.

Songs and readings of Karol Wojtyla’s poems and writings intermingled for 30 minutes before Benedict appeared at the window of his study at 9 sharp.

We greeted him with affection by raising the red, green, white, yellow and violet candles that were previously distributed. Thousands of colorful flames tinted the night with joyful nostalgia.

A Rosary to commemorate John Paul II’s last minutes on earth was a fitting tribute to the Pope who passionately promoted the devotion to the Marian prayer through many initiatives, such as the Year of the Rosary and his 2002 apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (The Rosary of the Virgin Mary).

Every decade, recited in Latin, was introduced by a Marian song, a Gospel passage and a text on Mary taken from John Paul’s homilies. We sang the Salve Regina. Benedict knelt throughout the Rosary facing the square from his window.

Two Key Virtues

At 9:37, he stood to address the faithful. John Paul II’s life, he said, could be summed up in two words: “fidelity and commitment — total fidelity to God and unreserved commitment to his mission as shepherd of the universal Church.”

I thought that fidelity and commitment are virtues we should learn from reciting the Marian prayer. “The Rosary,” John Paul II said on Sept. 29, 2002, “is a contemplative view of the face of Christ carried out, so to speak, through Mary’s eyes.”

As we address Our Lady with every Hail Mary, we may contemplate Jesus’ faithfulness to his Father’s will and his redemptive mission from the moment of conception to his glorious triumph in Heaven.

The Lord’s virtues shone out in a special way during his passion and death. So did those of John Paul. His fidelity and commitment, said Benedict, “became even more convincing and moving in his last months. ... His illness, faced with courage, made everyone pay more attention to human pain — to all physical and spiritual pain. He gave dignity and value to suffering, probing that man’s worth lies not in his efficiency or appearance, but in himself, because he has been created and loved by God.”

The late Pope’s virtues were also a way to follow Mary’s example — the example we face in the mysteries of the Rosary.

“His death,” Pope Benedict said earlier in his midday meditation, “was the fulfillment of a consistent testimony of faith that touched the hearts of so many men and women of good will. John Paul II left us on a Saturday, the day particularly dedicated to Mary, to whom he always showed a filial devotion.”

Benedict XVI has repeatedly proposed to us the testimony of his predecessor. In the last week alone, he spoke of John Paul’s life and example after the March 30 premiere of a movie dedicated to his pontificate, after the April 2 midday Angelus and evening Rosary, in the homily of his April 3 Mass and in the April 6 “Encounter with the Youth.”

We are called to imitate John Paul II. To achieve such a high goal, we need, like him, to be close to Mary — to contemplate the face of Christ through Mary’s eyes.

The Polish Pope died as he lived — with Christ in Mary’s hands — at the time we were reciting John Paul’s favorite prayer: the Rosary.

“We ask the heavenly Mother of God,” said Benedict in his April 2 midday meditation, “to help us to treasure all that this great Pope has given us and taught us.”

Legionary Father Alfonso Aguilar teaches philosophy at Rome’s Regina Apostolorum University.