MILLION VIEW SENTINEL
OF RELIGIOUS VIGILANCE by
Cliff McKenzie, Editor
ZERO PLUS 1303 DAY--New York, NY, Saturday, April
John Paul II once touched my wife's hand.
We were in Rome on vacation
in 1986, and like billions who have before, we jammed into the
courtyard of the Vatican to see the Pope. Fortunately, we were
in the front row of an aisle, held back by metal gates and very
large, ominious looking Swiss Guards trained to protect the
Pope with their lives.
and I hoped for a glimpse of the Pope
Beside and behind us
were rowdy German tourists, reeking of strong cheese and shouting
gutteral comments in a language that, after many hours of standing
in the hot sun, turns into sandpaper on the tympanic membrane.
We held fast to our spot
despite the constant jostling on either side by the German delegation,
whom we thought might be a group of retired women wrestlers,
or who were competing for the "before" of an after-arm
All we hoped for was
a glimpse of the Pope and, if lucky, a photo that wouldn't make
the pontiff look like an ant. The aisle we stood against was
wide. It carved through a mass of bodies, a ribbon of concrete
snaking through teeming sardine-canned humanity.
Clutching the iron fence
in desperation as bodies shoved tighter and tighter, we braced
ourselves as the crowd began to tense. Over bobbing heads and
waving arms in the distance we saw the Popemobile. It was cruising
through the pathway between the gates, and standing atop it
holding onto a grip was the leader of more than one billion
Catholics worldwide, waving and offering his sign of the Cross.
Our hearts beat fast.
Would he make his way past us?
The cart disappeared
on the right flank of us and I felt this drop in expectations.
Maybe he wouldn't come by. Maybe he was doing a big circle rather
than cutting through the middle section where we stood.
Then we heard the roar
to our right. The Germans shoved hard against us. We held fast
to the fence.
To our right hands and
arms reached out. Slowly, behind the backs of human palms of
old and young appeared the headlights of a golf-cart-looking
vehicle. It was white with shiny chrome glinting in the sunlight.
There, before our eyes, a simple arm's reach away, appeared
Pope John Paul II.
He had that nubiant glow,
pink, untouched, pure. His eyes seemed to smile, ignited as
though fueled by some deep inner spiritual passion that only
a shepherd who loves little lambs may exude when the carries
one in his arms.
I stood transfixed for
a flash of time, inhaling the vision of a man so large in spiritual
statue appearing so real and touchable in real life. One didn't
notice the guards around him, for their job was not to keep
the people away. The Pope was among his people, and he turned
from side to side, leaning over slightly to hold out his hands
and touch the people he passed.
He wasn't some rock star
expecting those to kneel at his presence, for the glee that
was radiating from him was that of him touching others, not
of letting them touch him.
He was the fisherman
who threw sardines to the fish not in order to lure them to
the hook, but rather to honor them by serving them with the
food and wine of life. He was, as I gazed for an eternal blink
into his eyes, the servant. The flock, the mass of humanity,
was the master.
It seemed as though he
spotted my wife's hand. He was coming close. Leaning to the
right, away from us. Then he turned his head. His eyes seemed
to focus on my wife's outstretched hand.
Paul's hand brushed over my wife's
I had been so mesermized
by the event I forgot about my camera. Quickly, I pulled it
up, shoving back against the German linebackers battling to
press flesh with the Pope.
I was behind my wife
as she leaned over the railing, her arm stretched out, palm
opened. I swear the Pope looked directly at her. His alabaster
skin glistened in the sunlight and there was blush of pink roosting
upon his cheeks. I saw him focus on her hand and he leaned our
way, his hand out and brushed it over my wife's as well as those
eager fingers wagging like the tails of happy puppies for the
mere pat on the head from the master of the house.
Click! Click! Click!
of religion melted away the day I witnessed Pope John
I shot fast. One never
knows if he gets the shot at the moment. In those days, it was
all film. There was no instant approval of the image. My Nikon
Fotomic T, ancient by today's standards, top of the line in
those days, didn't fail me.
When we did develop the
film there it was. My wife's hand being touched by the Pope.
Skeptics of religion
as well as the idea that any human can contain the elixir of
omnipotence would scoff at the idea of standing in jammed crowds
for hours to be "blessed" by the man who wears the
Shoes of the Fisherman, alleged by dogma to be the Ambassador
of God on earth.
My wife is a born Catholic,
raised in the religion and a graduate of a women's Catholic
College, St. Theresa in Winona, Minn. I'm a "body-bag-catholic"
who joined the religion on my way to Vietnam so I wouldn't die
without a body bag because "no preferences," I was
informed, most likely would be the last ones to get a bag.
My skepticism for religion
melted away that day.
There was something wonderful
about this man--this Polish priest who loved mountain climbing
and survived the Nazis, who, upon finding out he had been named
Pope, continued on his kayaking vacation and finished serving
life before donning the "Shoes Of The Fisherman" and
becoming the shepherd of a billion people worldwide.
As the Pope lies in Spiritual
State, I think of his body in sweet, innocent repose. He was
that kind of man in life. Atop the Popemobile, he was not a
dynasty--an unreachable person with thick walls of "I'm-great-and-you're-a-speck
of dust" aura about him. He was one of us. He was humus.
He was of the earth, and you felt that seeping from his every
met with world leader Ronald Reagan
I have had the opportunity
in my life to be near some of the world's leaders. I met with
Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford on separate occasions, and, because
of their trappings and auras, one felt intimidated in their
presence, if for no other reason than the intense searching
and security prior to the meeting, and the countless people
telling you what you could and couldn't do. Of course, there
was the demeanor of the individual. There was something distant
about them. You were, in political terms, just anothe vote.
You were a faceless being.
Not true with the Pope.
You were a lamb. He was
You felt warm in his
arms, even though they might have only been his eyes touching
you, they lifted you up to his chest and hugged you, warmed
your insides, melted the crusty skepticism of your athetistic
soul and told you it was okay to be who you were.
There was unconditional
love in the Pope's being.
My wife still beams to
this day when she says: "The Pope once touched me."
John Paul will never die
Today, millions have
seen his body. I assume he still radiate in death what he did
in life--hope for all of us to learn to love ourselves and others
just a little more.
In my own way, the Pope
He will never die, for
love just doesn't know how to do that.
For Pope John Paul II
Church St. Stanislaus on Seventh Street in The East Village,
NYC (right down the street from
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