There are some moments that leave a deep impression on life. You would like to go back and live them again. They are in the past but effect the present. The best we can do is learn from them so as to always take a step forward just like the following experience I had in Rome.
“Go ahead!” I looked down the long towering passageway without breathing. My legs started to move as my mind tried to grasp the reality of the situation. Everything went as planned and we turned right going into a small room. “Wait here.” We stopped too nervous to tremble.
People started to gaze at us through the plexi-glass. My mind raced to find an explanation… Just two days before, I was at the seminary as normal when one of the fathers pulled me aside and asked “How would you like to be an altar server for the Pope?” “Altar server for the Pope?” I replied “How can I say no? What an honor.” Satisfied with the answer the father continued “It is going to be the Mass of Pardon where the Pope will ask for forgiveness for the sins committed throughout the history of Christianity.” I could hardly believe my ears. The Jubilee Year 2000 had been full of special graces but it was almost too much.
Now I stood next to the famous Pietà statue waiting to begin the ceremony. “Come on! The Holy Father is waiting!” The other seminarian and I stepped through the door into a small private sacristy just large enough for the Pope, two monsignors and both of us. Pope John Paul II had his back towards us, hands folded, head bent with his eyes closed as he faced towards a crucifix on the wall. A peaceful silence came over all of us. We stood there looking at him while he looked towards God. No words, no movement, just the silent testimony of a man in prayer. Conscious of his own weakness and necessity, aware of who man is and his great need for God’s mercy. The Pope interceded before Christ for humanity.
As he opened his eyes the monsignor signaled and we headed out to lead the procession into the basilica. As we turned right to head down the center aisle flashes of light from the press and the packed crowds of faithful blinded me. Little did they know that they had missed the heart of the situation.
Pope John Paul II is a saint not because he was in the spot light but rather because he learned from Christ how to forgive and ask for forgiveness. Fourteen years after this historical Mass of Pardon we are aware more than ever of man’s weakness, his sin and his need for God. Wars, injustice and hate are still a part of our daily lives during this new Millennium. Living saints are necessary who follow the example of John Paul II and pray every day as Christ taught us “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…”