In 1978 the world had three Popes. Following the deaths of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul I, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II — marking an Easter moment for the Catholic Church.
Pope Paul VI intuited Karol Wojtyla’s destined ascendancy to the Papacy when he appointed him a Cardinal. Pope John Paul I, the Pope of 33 days who succeeded Pope Paul VI, perhaps sensing that his election was an accident of history, intimated two nights before his mysterious and somewhat controversial death: “He will come as I am going.”
This was shared last April 2 by then Monsignor (now Bishop) John Magee, who served as secretary to Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul I, during the Familyland Channel’s commemoration of the 4th death anniversary of Pope John Paul II. Bishop Magee also believed that the ascendancy of Pope John Paul II was made in Heaven.
As it turned out, Pope John Paul II’s reign became the fulfillment of landmark Catholic Church reforms that Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI initiated. His “Be not afraid” crusade against Godless Communism is largely credited for providing the moral substance that slit the weak underbelly of the Socialist system.
The Familyland Channel’s commemoration also featured a taped sharing of our very own Jaime Cardinal Sin on how Karol Cardinal Wojtyla was elected Pope. Cardinal Sin was one of the closest to Pope John Paul II and that was only fitting considering that both of them figured prominently in shaping political events on a global scale. Pope John Paul II devastated the Communist thesis while Cardinal Sin propagated People Power as an active non-violent means for removing tyrants.
In October 16, 1978, after two days and the 7th balloting, Cardinal Sin narrated that the conclave was far from electing the next Pope. There was hardly a consensual favorite emerging. He said that it was suggested before the 8th balloting — for all the Cardinals to pray for Divine Guidance. They did just that. They all prayed hard for the Holy Spirit to guide their election.
From zero votes in all the previous seven voting, with nobody even suggesting his name — Karol Cardinal Woytyla was suddenly garnering 99 percent of the votes! How else does Cardinal Sin explain this phenomenal feat other than as a clear work of the Holy Spirit?
And to top it all, Cardinal Sin narrated that Cardinal Wojtyla was oblivious to all that was happening. While all the other Cardinals could only express surprise at what was unfolding — a clear manifestation of the Hand of God — Cardinal Wojtyla was sitting in his place engrossed in reading a book!
When they approached and informed him of his election, Cardinal Wojtyla expressed shock. He could only ask them: “My God, why did you punish me?” After saying this, Cardinal Sin said that Cardinal Wojtyla fell to the floor from his seat and started convulsing as if suddenly stricken by severe malaria.
Pope John Paul II became the first non-Italian Pope since the 16th century and the first Polish Pope as well. He was also the most traveled Pope, a true revolutionary like Jesus Christ.
Until May 13, 1981 when an attempt was made on his life, Pope John Paul II was known to disregard his own security protocol and would leave the Vatican whenever he felt the urge to go someplace. In one particular instance, he motored to a Rome hospital to comfort a friend who was rushed there.
Before Pope John Paul II got to the hospital, the sister of Madda Cariolato, head of the women’s Focolare in Tagaytay, was told by her doctor in the same hospital that her tests showed that she had a serious, life threatening heart condition. Having just given birth barely a year before, Madda’s sister was naturally devastated and was in tears as she left her doctor’s office.
In the hospital corridor, she met the Pope just as he arrived to visit his friend. He immediately saw the crying woman and paused to comfort her. When she shared with him what her doctor told her, Pope John Paul II asked her to join him in prayer and he placed his hand over her head. She immediately felt relief and went home feeling peace and resigned to whatever is the will of God.
When they did subsequent tests on her, to their surprise, there was no trace whatsoever of the heart problem! It was not as if their initial tests were erroneous. Days before, it was a life threatening heart problem but after praying with the Pope, the problem was gone. So early in his Papacy, Pope John Paul II was already doing miracles.
In March 2000, the Jubilee Year, Carlo Gentile and our long time family friend Thelma Montano — both from the Focolare Movement — visited me at home to invite me to the First NetOne International Media Congress to be held in June at Castelgandolfo, the Pope’s summer residence near Rome. The high point of the Congress is an audience with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican on our last day.
At that time, I was already undergoing hemodialysis for end stage renal failure and it was simply out of the question to attend the Congress and Papal audience much as I wanted to. Thelma would not take no for an answer and said that the Focolare will pray for something positive to develop that will facilitate my joining the Congress.
The very next week, I had my monthly blood test and lo and behold — my creatinine level and clearance improved dramatically and I was told by my doctor that I can be off dialysis! That cleared the way for me to attend the four-day Congress and meet Pope John Paul II on our last day.
I have only personally met one Pope in my entire life. But that having been Pope John Paul II, I feel very privileged that I got to meet, shook hands and greeted this historic, miraculous Pope.
Pope John Paul II reinvigorated the Church and set it towards its course in the new millennium. He made the Church relevant anew to many whose faith was already wandering in the desert of sin and moral desolation. He attracted the youth back to the Church and, taking inspiration from Chiara Lubich’s Gen (Youth of the Focolare) Festival, he instituted World Youth Day.