My generation, for the most part, holds tight to Saint John Paul II as being their pope. I’ve heard many go on to say that John Paul II taught them to love the faith, and Benedict XVI taught them to live the faith. I have felt the same way for several years.
Over the last few weeks, however, I’ve been thinking about my pope.
I started The Catholic Traveler under John Paul II’s papacy.
On my first trip to Rome, seeing the Holy Father was one of the things that made me want to return to Rome.
Thinking back, it was another well known Catholic who first gave me a glimpse of Catholic ‘celebrity.’ A Cardinal who was to celebrate the deaconate ordination Mass of several seminarians from the North American College. I must admit that I really didn’t know who he was. I’d heard the name, I’d heard the title, but it was seeing the reaction of all the people that made really realize this guy was a big deal. It was Cardinal Raztinger and it was pretty cool being so close to someone with such a big job in the Church.
I went on to see Pope John Paul II at least a dozen more times, including having a chance to meet him when my wife and I traveled to Rome for our honeymoon. When he died, I was devastated and jumped on a plane the next day to attend the funeral.
But, here’s where things change for me…
With the exception of meeting Pope John Paul II with my wife and a group trip to World Youth Day, my interactions with JPII were always alone.
The first pilgrimage I led was shortly after Pope Benedict’s installation. On that trip, I was able to get front row for a general audience, attend the Pallium Mass for my new Archbishop – sitting right behind the altar – and have a semi-private audience with him – but the coolest part was that I was able to get my group into all these things as well.
It was with Pope Benedict that I experienced seeing a pope through other people’s eyes. And by a small part, the experience these people had was because of me.
I was always able to get my groups to the front. At every audience, every Mass, every Papal event, the distance between my groups and Pope Benedict could be measured in inches. In quite a few instances, my groups were able to reach out and grab the Holy Father’s hand and kiss the ring.
It was with Pope Benedict that I got to see my group’s excitement as he drove by, looked at them and smiled.
It was with Pope Benedict that I saw people’s spiritual conversions, a return to the sacraments, and in a few cases, come into the Catholic faith – I have quite a few non-Catholics travel with me.
Yes, Pope Benedict was my pope. And now he’s gone. I’ll miss him. I’ll miss his smile. I’ll miss his words. But, most of all, I’ll miss seeing him through the eyes of my travelers.
Thankfully, the Church and the Papacy will go on.
Update: Through an amazing coincidence, rather a truly great blessing, I was there when my next pope, our next pope, walked onto the balcony and, after a few tears of my own, I begin watching his papacy through the eyes of my groups.
More pictures from my eight years of traveling with Pope Benedict XVI
Since the resignation
I have been absolutely blessed to see, with my own eyes, Pope Emeritus Benedict at five public appearances since he resigned, including the first…