Today, I feel very much as I did on the day my own father died 18 years ago.
This jumble of emotions is strangely familiar. I am grateful, almost joyful, that the years of pain and suffering are over, that a very good man has stepped across the mystical divide into his just and eternal reward. Yet his passing leaves an emptiness that can not be described, a sorrow in the knowledge that the world is a poorer place now that this special soul has left us behind.
When you look at the history of Pope John Paul II's remarkable life, you can read the finger of God writing with bold and dramatic lines. You see his human suffering in the many chapters. When he was a nine-year-old child, his mother died. Three years later, his older brother died. When he was 20 years old, working as a laborer in a quarry, he returned from work one evening to find his father, his only remaining family, dead in their small apartment. Of that day, "I have never felt so alone," John Paul II is quoted as telling one of his biographers.
John Paul also suffered the loss of friends and neighbors in the Holocaust and the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Poland. This pope understood human grief in a personal way that made him famous for his loving compassion to others. It is a beautiful irony that this great man, left alone in the world by age 20, became the spiritual father to a billion Roman Catholics, and a shining example of God's goodness to the billions of people who follow a different path of faith.
As a youth, he was at various times an actor, a playwright, a poet, a laborer, a student, and finally, a seminarian. He became a priest, a teacher, an athlete, a philosopher, a bishop, a cardinal, an author--and a very great Pope. We shall not see his like again.
As a Catholic, I feel very blessed that my time on earth intersected his, and that I was witness to the greatest victory won through his fearless faith--the fall of communism and the spread of democracy in Eastern Europe. As a writer and blogger, I am touched that one of Pope John Paul II's last published writings, "The Rapid Development," was on the power and influence of the Internet. As his spiritual daughter, I feel bereft.
But as I so often do when I am troubled, I hear the voice of my own father inside my heart in the words he used whenever I was frightened as a child: "It's all right, Kathy." Today, I hear those words in the younger voice of John Paul II, a voice that is strong and vibrant once again.
Godspeed, Holy Father. I have faith, as you did, that we, your spiritual sons and daughters, will be all right.