John Holton (john_holton) wrote,
John Holton

A short time after becoming the Pope, John Paul II made a trip to the United States. One of the cities that he visited was Chicago, the city with the most Polish citizens outside of Warsaw, and one of his scheduled stops was at a parish not far from where Mary and I lived. Now, we had no chance of ever getting into the church, much less being able to see him. However, I was on my way home from work (I worked third shift at a food plant) that morning, and it just so happened that traffic was stopped at 47th and California while his motorcade came through. Unfortunately, I caught the tail end of it, and didn't see him. Still, the idea of the Pope, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the entire world, being driven down California Avenue, among the factories, warehouses and rail transfer points, said a lot to me. I had known of John XXIII from the picture in my classroom at St. Ignatius School, and of Paul VI, who had been Pope all through the rest of grammar school, high school and college (he died the year Mary and I graduated), and for the life of me, I couldn't think of either of them traveling down California Avenue, among the factories, warehouses, and rail transfer points.

I don't know if I've told you this story or not: I lived in a neighborhood that was about half Polish and Lithuanian, half Mexican. Most of the businesses along 47th Street were still owned by the Polish, and they were, quite understandably, proud of the new Holy Father. Many of them put his official portrait in the windows of their shops when they knew that he would be coming. The display I remember the best was the one in the local corset shop: His portrait sat amid the packages of Exquisite Form bras in the front window, which had in turn been arranged so that all of these beautiful, full-figured women were casting their eyes on him. I wish I had a picture of it.

I do have a picture of this, though:

This is a picture of him visiting Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who shot him in 1981. I once heard that the day he was shot, he stood watching the police wrestling with Agca, praying for his assailant. Can we learn to do this? Maybe we should.

I feel a sense of loss at John Paul II's death. I didn't always agree with him, but I respected him. More importantly, I felt that I knew him, somehow. I remember him saying Mass at the end of one of his trips to the US, and, after the greeting specified in the Missal, he smiled, looked around the crowd and said, "I SAY YOU, GOOD MORNING!" In that one moment, he sounded like and looked like most of my neighbors. Leader of the Church on Earth, yes, but at the same time one of my neighbors, someone that I had heard at Bobek's Sausage and the Baltic Bakery and talking to his friends on the corner.

Eternal Rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

And I say you, John Paul II, farewell.

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