Papal anniversary evokes memories - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Papal anniversary evokes memories

Our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, was elected to the Chair of Peter
on October 16, 1978. In this issue of the Catholic Courier dated
October 16, 2003, I wish Pope John Paul II many blessings as the whole
church celebrates this most significant anniversary.

There are few personalities on the world stage in the past
quarter-century whose faces have been more familiar, or whose lives and
times have been reported more extensively than his. His extensive
travels, his outreach to people of all cultures, his ecumenical and
interfaith work, his initiatives for peace and his defense of all
vulnerable life have left a deep imprint on a world moving from the
second to the third millennium.

Now, our Holy Father is in the news not only because of his
continuing, vigorous schedule, but also because of his declining
health. And the prayers of countless thousands of people will be
offered for him in a special way this week – in gratitude for his
single-minded pastoral service and in petition for his strength and
peace of heart as he copes with illness.

You will have read much about John Paul II in this week of his
jubilee. I want to add a few personal memories and reflections about
him.

1) I was in Rome at the time – in the last year of a seven-year term
on the staff of the North American College. We recently had been
through the election to the papacy of Albino Luciani, the patriarch of
Venice who, to the delight of all, honored his two immediate
predecessors by choosing the name John Paul. Little did anyone know
that death would end his term 33 days after it had begun. My memories
of him are very fond ones. He was direct, clear and familiar in style.
I thought of him as an effective catechist. He invited people to think
and learn through stories and by sharing his own experience of
faith.

2) The night on which Karol Wojtyla was elected to succeed John Paul
was a truly spectacular one. The sunset that day was brilliant, and it
gave way to a brilliant full moon. St. Peter’s Square was packed with
excited people. The façade of the basilica – indeed the whole scene –
was illuminated by television lighting. I forget how long I stood in
the square waiting for the announcement that evening. But I do remember
some of the people with whom I shared the experience – Father Jack
Sise, a priest of Albany and a dear friend who was in Rome in
sabbatical; Father John Strynkowski, a priest of Brooklyn and a
colleague at the seminary where I worked; and a young graduate student
from the Diocese of Rochester by the name of Father Joseph Hart.

3) There was some confusion among the assembly in St. Peter’s Square
at the time of the announcement. Some thought that Cardinal Bernard
Gantin from Benin in Africa had been elected, since he was the first to
step out on the central loggia of St. Peter’s. When the name Karol
Wojtyla was announced it was clear from the reaction in the square that
many were unfamiliar with the name. But, soon enough, puzzlement
changed to astonished excitement when the throng realized that we were
greeting the first non-Italian elected to the papacy in more than 400
years.

4) Little did I realize that night that seven months later I would
be ordained the eighth bishop of Rochester through the invocation of
the Holy Spirit and by the imposition of hands by this newly elected
pope. I can hardly believe how quickly the years have gone by or how
much has happened in all of our lives in the years since that October
evening. I do know that I will be forever grateful for the gift of my
ordination and for the kindness and understanding with which Pope John
Paul II has treated me through all the years.

5) On the day of his jubilee celebration I will be presiding and
preaching at a liturgy at St. Stanislaus Parish in Rochester. With that
strong and proud Polish community, I will express your gratitude and my
own for the gift John Paul II has been to our church and world, and
pray that the grace of God will support him in this illness.

Peace to all.

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