When people ask me where I got married, their ears always perk-up when I tell them my husband and I took our vows in the walls of the Vatican during the year of the Jubilee. In truth, we were looking for a venue to avoid a large wedding and getting married in September, along with hosting a destination wedding, allowed us to do just that. The fact that we were able to cross the threshold of the Holy Door and take our vows in a choir chapel in St. Peter's Basilica was an added bonus and allowed us to place the focus on the nuptials with just the closest of family and friends making the journey.
But aside from saying our "I dos" in the Holy See, one of the indelible moments etched in my memory was participating in the papal blessing of newlyweds that took place on Wednesday mornings in St. Peter's Square. I wasn't certain what to expect, but I remember being pleasantly surprised. It was almost surreal how beautiful it was to watch the train of brides line-up to meet John Paul II. So many Catholic women, dressed in beautiful white gowns of different styles that spoke to the country she was from; head's covered with veils; their grooms dressed in dark suits, escorting them to the dais where the Pope sat on what looked like a throne. It was like something out of a storybook. The master of ceremonies announced each couple by country, and then two by two we would go up, kneel at his Holiness's feet, and he touched our hands and blessed us.
The couple in front of us was from Poland and the couple behind us was Italian. Although none of us spoke the language of the other, a woman expressing admiration for another woman's dress is a universal language. I remember thinking that the Polish bride looked like a princess and the Italian woman encapsulated the word beautiful with her dark tresses pulled up elegantly and covered with a vintage looking veil that could have belonged to her mother or grandmother.
After the joyfully weeping Polish couple was whisked away, the mc announced us as the couple from the United States and we slowly walked towards the Pope and knelt before him for our blessing. The whole scene I just described was magnificent, but the moment that had the most profound affect on me was looking into the Pope's eyes. They were such a deep, warm blue, you didn't want to look away. Even if he had not been smiling, his eyes were. It may sound like hyperbole, but they say the eyes are the window to the soul, and perhaps what I was seeing was the truth of his holiness.
Later when I would share this experience with some friends who happen to be Jewish, the husband and wife both concurred that they too thought there was something special about John Paul II and they hoped to one day meet him. Their reaction really speaks to how Pope John Paul II was a rock star in every sense of the word, without ever appearing on the cover of Rolling Stones. He was a man whose actions personified his words and in so doing, reached well beyond his Catholic followers.
Pope John Paul II walked the path of courage, faith, and peace and sought to re-engage the Church with the world. He became the first pope to visit Cuba, the first to visit a synagogue and the White House. He re-established diplomatic relations with the United States and Great Britain, as well as establishing relations with Israel and the PLO. He visited the man who shot him and not only forgave him, but sat and prayed with him. And even as his health was failing, he quietly bore his suffering under the mantel of St. Peter, allowing the world to bear witness to the strength of faith in fragility.
John Paul II's canonization is a reminder that saints do walk among us. Some are humble and lowly, and some rise to great ranks in the Catholic Church, but what each of them has in common is an unyielding obedience to a call to holiness, a call that summons all, but beckons those few whom both Catholics and non-Catholics alike will strive to imitate.
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