By Katia López-Hodoyán
Reporting from Rome, Italy
More than just a moment, it was a feeling. Amid the chaos and even amid the silence, we all knew it was historic. Through the weaving flags, one could see hundreds of posters, showing a young and healthy John Paul II. Others chose to remember him by carrying images of the polish Pope as an elder. A man who even with limited speech and mobility, maintained his dignity.
More than 1.5 million people flocked to the city, for that moment alone. A night before, when the barriers still blocked the entrance to Saint Peter’s Square, thousands set tents, braving the cold and even rain before the doors opened at 5 a.m. The only remote comparison to the event was a massive concert or even a world cup, but even then, there was no match.
While walking through the streets of Rome, I asked people. “Why did you come?” One response came up time and time again: “John Paul II helped me personally in my life.” It became obvious. For thousands of people, all across the world, John Paul II wasn’t a remote religious figure in the Church. He was more like a family member.
“For me, he was like a grandfather,” said a young French woman. “But to older people maybe he was like an uncle, a brother. He was an inspiration of how to live a full life, even when going through difficult times.”
Loud cheers suddenly rang out, as a tapestry showing the smiling face of John Paul II was unveiled. It was official. He was a ‘blessed.” The process itself took years, but even so it was the quickest beatification on record. In doing so, the Catholic Church bypassed some of its own time restraint laws, to approve the beatification swiftly.
“For me, he was already a blessed,” said Mariana Ortega, from Mexico. “This is more of a celebration of his life, but I always prayed to him, even before.”
For Mexicans and even Mexican Americans, John Paul II, holds a special place. As a record setting pope, he beatified more than 1,300 people and canonized almost 500. Among them, Juan Diego, who announced the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
To be considered a blessed, a miracle has to be accredited to the candidate after his death. In the case of John Paul II, a French nun said she was cured of Parkinson’s Disease through the intercession of John Paul II. The beatification process includes testimony from those in favor of making him a blessed and those against it. A group of independent doctors also have confirm that the cure doesn’t have a logical explanation.
So now that the beatification is over. What’s next? Stores are still selling every kind of item with the image of John Paul II. Store owners say, items with the image of the Polish Pope, sell more frequently than those of Benedict XVI. In restaurants, some place mats have the image of Karol Wojtyla, with the words “Io c’ero” on them, which means “I was there.”
It’s fair to say the hoopla is over, but the devotion is still very much alive.
“For me, he was a Mexican Pope,” said Alberto Sanchez, who lives in Los Angeles. “But every nationality considers him their Pope. The French say he was a French Pope, Americans say, he was an American Pope. I guess we all felt a connection.”
There were critics of course. A minority said, John Paul II shouldn’t be considered a blessed since the sex abuse cases came to light during his pontificate. They argued, he wasn’t boisterous enough. They also say he did little to stop it.
“Evil exists. Sin exists,” said Catholic priest Steven Roberts. “That doesn’t take away the fact that this man lived an exemplary life.”
Others argued he was much too open with other religions to be considered a blessed in the Catholic Church- He was the first modern pope to visit a mosque, a synagogue and a Protestant Church.
“That was the beauty of John Paul II. He included everyone,” said Osnet Kumey from Nigeria. “He brought unity to all corners of the world.”
For John Paul II to be canonized, which would make him a saint, yet another miracle would have to be attributed to him now that he’s a blessed. Even though the constant cheers are gone and Catholic groups are no longer strolling down the streets singing to the beat of a guitar, still there’s an aura, a feeling of having witnessed something historic…..
“How can I explain it,” asked Jose Ortega when asked to describe the moment. “I just can’t. I have no words.”