Even before the pope announced John Paul II would be beatified this year, I had begun reading the JPII’s biography by George Weigel, Witness to Hope. So, when the announcement came, the late Holy Father’s life and accomplishments were fresh before my mind.
Having been gone in Sicily for the week leading up to the beatification, we were blessed to arrive back in Rome just in time to participate in a tour of John Paul II’s stomping grounds as a student. Led by Christendom College’s Dr. Timothy O’Donnell, the tour included a walk past the old Belgian College, where Fr. Wojtyla lived immediately after his ordination. We also visited the Jesuit church of Sant’ Anrea in Quirinale, at which Fr. Karol would stop to pray on his way to school at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, more familiarly known as the Angelicum. Afterwards, we visited the Angelicum itself. Vice Rector Fr. Alejandro Crosthwaite gave us a tour of the buildings and grounds, among the highlights of which were a peek into the room where JPII defended his dissertation and a display of his report cards at the university.
That evening a large group of Christendomites got in line for the beatification Mass. The line, already full of pilgrims, engulfed us from about 10:30PM till we reached St. Peter’s Square around 8:00AM the next morning. Even though we had crossed the Square dozens of time in the past months, that day it was as if we had never been there before. On the same cobble stones where flocks of pigeons usually peck out a meager lunch, flocks of pilgrims staked out camps where many dozed or picnicked, while others loudly defended their territorial claims against intruding newcomers. The ceremony itself was prayerful, however, and aside from the cheers and waving flags leading up to and immediately following the rite of beatification, silence dominated the crowd. When Pope Benedict proclaimed JPII blessed, few eyes were left dry and each heart wanted to cry out for joy. Beate Iohannes Paule, ora pro nobis!