The 1960s best selling novel — “The Shoes of the Fisherman” — by Morris West, which was made into a major motion picture, seemed to have intuited the 1978 ascendancy of Pope John Paul II. In the Morris West novel, a Cardinal Kiril Lakota came from the Iron Curtain and became the Pope during a crucial period of the Cold War.
Believing that God intervenes in the affairs of men during certain junctures of history - your Chair Wrecker could not help but get excited when Krakow’s Karol Josef Wojtyla was elected by the Cardinals in a Conclave on October 16, 1978 and became Pope John Paul II. Elected during the height of the Cold War, Pope John Paul II was the right man for the right job at the right time. He provided the world the spiritual inspiration and fortitude to vanquish Communism. Eleven years after his ascendancy, the Berlin Wall and Communism fell.
In early 2000, I received three visitors from the Focolare Movement in our home - Italian New City Editor Carlo Gentile, Economy of Communion advocate Francis Ganzon and family friend Thelma Montano. I have known the Focolare Movement since 1967 and on several occasions I’ve espoused in this column some of their ideals.
Francis and Thelma accompanied Carlo so that he could personally invite me to attend the first NetOne International Media Congress which is to be held in June at the Pope’s summer residence in Castelgandolfo. I was also invited to speak in a roundtable discussion on Globalization. As the final event of the Media Congress, we will meet with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican’s St. Paul’s Auditorium - marking World Journalists Day of the Jubilee Year.
Under normal circumstances, I would have grabbed the chance to join the Media Congress. However, at that time I was already undergoing hemodialysis twice a week for end stage renal failure - a reality that kept me from traveling longer than four days. When I explained why I am compelled to decline their invitation, Thelma said: “If it’s the will of God that you should attend, then you will attend.” They promised to mobilize the Focolare prayer brigade to ask God to find a way to let me join the Media Congress and meet Pope John Paul II.
Two weeks later, on my scheduled monthly blood tests, my lead doctor, Dr. Claver P. Ramos of the Makati Medical Center, happily announced the surprising sudden improvement of my creatinine level. “At this improved level, you can go off-dialysis,” Dr. Ramos told me. That meant that I could attend the Media Congress and meet Pope John Paul II.
“Wow! He’s not just a historic Pope but one who can work miracles as well,” I said to myself. Among those afflicted with end stage renal failure, going off-dialysis is a rarity.
Being off-dialysis allowed me to attend the Media Congress at Castelgandolfo but as I discovered later, I’ll have a problem joining the meeting with the Pope. That’s because we’re to be dropped at a bus station about half a kilometer from the Vatican. At that time, I was incapable already of walking the one kilometer to and fro the Vatican. Again not to take NO for an answer, Carlo managed to produce a wheelchair that will enable him, as well as others who were willing to risk developing hernia, to push me to and fro the venue for the meeting with the Pope.
The NetOne International Media Congress went well. I finally got to meet Focolare founder Chiara Lubich. I was privileged to have been the only Asian to speak in the roundtable discussions. On the last day, as planned, we all boarded the bus that took us to the Vatican.
It turned out that those on wheelchair are given by the Pope the special privilege to approach and meet him after the Holy Mass and his address. “This is too much!” I said to myself. Considering that I have a terminal problem, I thought that maybe God was sending me these opportunities to ensure my getting a passing grade to enter the Pearly Gates when my time is up.
Knowing how Pope John Paul II has a special place in his heart for Filipinos, when my wife Mey and I came face to face with him, I said: “Your Holiness, I am from the Philippines.” At this time, Pope John Paul II was already suffering from a lot of health issues and you can almost feel the weight of the sins of the world written on his face. When he heard that I was from the Philippines, his face lit up and he exclaimed with a lilt in his voice: “Philippines!”
Who wouldn’t feel like floating on Cloud 9 after such an encounter and under the circumstances that led to that encounter? When Carlo Gentile was pushing me back to the bus terminal, he said: “Two days ago, you met Chiara. Today, you met the Pope. Now, you can die in peace.” I knew that Carlo said that in jest but deep inside me, I felt that it could be what is described as fate loving a jest, how from such jests your fate could be foretold.
Late that night, while Mey was deep into dreamland, I sat on my side of the bed in our room at Hotel Victoria. With all lights closed and peering at Villa Borghese across our balcony, I was reflecting the recent turn of events and wondering what the Lord had planned for me. Ever since I suffered from end stage renal failure, I had accepted the reality that I had very little time left, especially if I cannot find a kidney donor. I was already preparing my estate even before our trip to Italy.
Suddenly, I felt a powerful reassurance that I can still look at horizons, instead of terminals. It could not have been auto suggestion because I was fully focused on preparing for my exit, leaving the least amount of problems to my loved ones. Against what I’ve planted already in my mind, there came this powerful reassurance that touched both heart and mind. It was an inexplicable experience.
All these “HOLY” turn of events happened in the Jubilee Year 2000. In 2001, I found a kidney donor. In 2002, I had my kidney transplant. It is now 2011 and I’m still around and wrecking chairs.
We should thank and praise the Lord for giving us Pope John Paul II.
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