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We Watched John Paul II Die 15 Years Ago Today

A tapestry of Pope John Paul II hangs at the Vatican during canonization ceremonies in 2014. (Stefano Rellandini/Reuters)

Today is the 15th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s death. I’ve been having flashbacks ever since I realized this last night. It’s one of those things that you remember like it was yesterday and yet it also feels like it could have been a few lifetimes ago at the same time. It’s not the same thing, but it was another moment when some things all around seemed to stop as so many of us were watching, from wherever we were. And grieving. We were losing a father. For days, it was clear he was dying, and while the kids today would not fully appreciate this, this was shocking — he was the only pope so many of us knew, and through so much. He almost gave his life for that revolution he led along with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to help end the atheistic tyrannical regime that had suffocated and annihilated so many lives and so much human flourishing.

(If I were somewhere else right now, I’d be cracking open my copy of John O’Sullivan’s magisterial The President, the Pope, And the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World tonight.)

He had given so much already and after showing us how to live during some extraordinarily difficult circumstances — showing us what human life was all about in the first place, and who Christ is — here he was going home so publicly, showing us how to die. George Weigel described his suffering and death as his final encyclical — after writing so many words, here his words were in his pain, so clear for all the world to see. And how he handled it with faith and trust in the God of the kind he had been talking about all along life’s journey!

Today, I cannot stop thinking about how Pope Francis called John Paul II the “pope of the family” during his (and John XXIII’s) canonization Mass. We Catholics believe big-time in intercession (I sure do — I am counting on it), and I can’t help but think John Paul is working overtime in that regard for families who have some unprecedented time together right now. Some parents are mentioning to me that this time is a blessing for them, being together. Others are feeling overwhelmed. For others, still, this might be something like a breaking point. I’m praying for them all.

And I keep thinking about how human life and marriage were at the heart of so much of what John Paul focused on and how he ministered. And how off so many things in the world and even the Church are today (long before Coronavirus). Maybe this time together for so many domestic churches — the family — will be a source of just the kind of healing renewal we are in need of on many fronts. That’s certainly my prayer, and I know I am far from alone.

We need healing all around.

Saint John Paul II, pray for us.

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