April 2, 2005

The Touch of Pope John Paul II

It is with sadness that I pause at the passing of Pope John Paul II. I am not Roman Catholic, but the Pope did have an impact on how I view the world. Actually he gave me a look into a world I would have never seen.

In 1987 the Pope was making his trip to the U.S. and traveling across the states, stopping in many places. One of the places he was stopping was San Francisco. I was in my last semester at St. Mary's College and had been contacted over the summer to see if I had an interest in helping the San Francisco Diocese Catholic Communications work locally on the Pope visit. Since I was a communication major, I though this would be a great experience.

There were preliminary meetings over Summer, but most of the work started a few days before the Pope was to arrive in the U.S. I was going to be helping in a communication center that was going to be tracking the Pope by satellite feed, providing tape to local media, as well as subject experts explaining the Pope's points. As Pope arrived in the U.S. our satellite center was busy, I was spending most waking hours outside class at the center flipping tapes, running cameras of the expert press conferences. It was a lot of fun seeing behind the scenes and getting good hands on experience.

As the Pope was nearing San Francisco on his trip our communication center was getting moved to another place as the space was needed for other purposes on the day of his visit. The night before his arrival we moved all the equipment to an annex of the Cathedral. I had class early the day of his arrival, but was back in San Francisco to help out the last minute changes.

When I got to the Cathedral one of the technicians who had been a lead was needed back at the NBC affiliate. This left an extra spot for a person inside the Cathedral and I was asked if I wanted to go in as I had put in a lot of hours. The event was a religious only event between the Pope and Roman Catholic ordained priests, brothers, nuns, sisters, bishops, and cardinals. It was them, security, and a few press. I had to go fill out some paperwork for security and go help with some final preparations inside for the network cameras. Then it was back outside for the bomb searches.

We were finally let back in and went to our spots before the religious were let in the Cathedral. I was up on top one of the kiosks in the back with one of the camera crews and had a perfect view of the whole Cathederal, including a look down on the Pope's entry way. Things were orderly as everybody in their vestments came in and took their seat. We watched as the Pope landed in San Francisco and drove to the San Francisco Mission, where he held the boy with AIDS, which changed the view of many in the whole of the Church with that one action. He then was on his way to the Cathedral along a route that had more security than any other event prior.

As the Pope neared the Cathedral everybody was getting excited. There was getting to be a lot of commotion from the truly devoted, many of whom had never seen any Pope in person. As the Pope was a block away it was near bedlam in the Cathedral. The nuns, priests, brothers and sisters were up on the pews stomping their feet. It was like a rock concert. Not any rock concert, but a huge rock concert, like Elvis would have been, only bigger. I was on the headset that had media, security, and police on it. The police added more forces inside the Cathedral before the Pope would come in. They had metal barricades up and there were many police pushing back at the barricades, it was a scene I never would have imagined and one very few would ever see. Here was a man who represented to nearly every person in the Cathedral the embodiment of their connection to their God. For many it was a once in a life time event for these people who had given up everything and taken vows of poverty for their God.

As the Pope entered the Cathedral things really let loose. The barricades nearly came over as the Pope walked in and shook as many hands as he could. He put his hands deep into the crowds beyond the barricade that were thrust with the weight of thousands of pounds of the adoring. As the Pope walked down the main aisle he stepped into the pews to shake many many hands. He knew the sacrifices of these people as he was one of them. He made many feel like he was one with them.

After many minutes he finally was seated on the alter and a few minutes later order was largely restored. The meeting was one that presented the U.S. Church views to the Pope, female ordination and other relatively contentious subjects were broached. As the Pope gave his blessing I was asked if I wanted to go down near the exit to hang out to get a closer look. After the blessing I went down to an empty spot near the door with another who was helping. The exit was quite boisterous as well. As the Pope neared I was pushed toward the barricade, but as those around me urged, I put my hand out. As the Pope went by he shook my hand (it was very different from a politician handshake as it was more caring). As I turned around there were three or four nuns standing, a little shocked, and they asked timidly if I shook the Pope's hand. I said I had and the asked with which hand and I said my right, "the Pope it was right", I remembered saying. They asked if they could touch that hand. Two of them became faint, but they did not go down, as they touched my hand. They were so excited to touch the hand that touched the Pope. I was stunned and deeply saddened by this, as I was not expecting this response, but I felt very badly that I shook the hand when it should have been one of these nuns, who had given so much.

Since that time I have been in utter awe of the man who was Pope John Paul II, he did far more for the Church and making it come to life for many. Peace.

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