Written by Andre Regnier
“Why am I here?” This is the question I asked myself as I sat in the middle of St Peter’s Square in utter disappointment, moments after the funeral of Pope John Paul II. The day after the death of JPII, I had a great desire to be in St Peter’s Square. My prayer was simple, “Lord if you want me to be there you are going to have to move fast”.
I shared this desire with Brett and Jeff, and in the midst of that conversation I received two phone calls from CTV and the Montréal gusset. Somehow they had heard that I was going to the Funeral. The three of us agreed that if I could make the necessary arrangements I was meant to go. In the frenzy of preparing for the trip I was struck by the excitement and sense of anticipation amongst the staff and the students. My sense was that JPII’s death was more than a time of mourning but a time of celebrating a life well spent. I also anticipated that something beautiful was going to be played out for the future of the Church. I was very much aware that I was not going to Rome on my own but I was bringing a lot of people along with me.
The day that I was leaving I did a noon hour interview on CTV. They wanted me to explain why I was going and what I thought of the Holy Father. I think I gave JPII a pretty good endorsement. What caught the reporter’s attention was how I was able to book a ticket for the very next day using Aeroplan points. This is virtually unheard of. A few hours later I had to rush to the airport to pick up my ticket. The agent was unable to find me in the system. That was really not good news at all. I went to my Aeroplan card to find a number I could call. However my age was catching up with me and I was unable to read the numbers. I approached the next desk to ask the nice lady to help make out the fine print; she pointed at me and commented how she had just seen me on TV. She even remembered my name. She explained in amazement how she and the agent next to her were talking about the Pope all day. She just finished telling her about how she was moved by what I said on TV. She gladly began to search and eventually found me in the system. It was at that time that I realized that I had left all my identification at home. I explained how I would have to go back home to get my identification, she assured me that she could confirm who I was. She explained how she knew I had an Aeroplan ticket because the news anchor was making such a big deal of it. To say the least, we were all amazed at what just transpired. As I was leaving she said to me, “I think someone wants you to be in Rome.”
On the flight over I was lead to read Philippians 1 and 2. Only later did I understand the significance. I got to St Peter’s the day before the funeral. After waiting in line for over 5 hours to see JPII lying in state I rushed to my hotel, which was a long ways away. You can imagine the frustration I felt early the next morning when I discovered that I would not be able to get anywhere near St. Peter’s square. You all know me: I always want to be at the heart of the action. Yet here I was, lost, alone and cut off from what was going on.
I remember sitting on the banks of the Tiber River, I was discouraged and felt like a failure. I looked up at the domes of St Peter’s and I knew by faith that heaven was opening up at that moment to welcome a Saint. This does not happen every day. Re-inspired I got up and desperately tried to find some kind of back entrance knowing very well that this was impossible. But I had to do something. By this time the funeral was coming to an end. I happened to walk by a screen and at that moment I saw the casket being lifted up-right. This got me moving faster. I cannot explain how it happened but I found myself in St. Peter’s square literally moments after the Mass had ended. I stood there as people were beginning to file out. I knew something very profound had taken place and I missed it. I was sick at heart. “Why did I come here?” I asked myself. The significance of the funeral was described to me only a minute later by a girl that I knew very well from Ottawa. The likelihood of such an occurrence can only be explained by providence. Thinking that I had been there for the funeral she could not contain her emotions sharing with me what had just taken place.
After a long period of time, tears and soul searching, sitting alone in the middle of St. Peter’s
square, I received a certain amount of comfort from the Lord as he spoke to my heart: “Where
you are, I am also”. He was aware of what just happened to me. The next day as I was praying in front of the body of St. Ignatius in the Gesu Church I was lead back to Philippians 1. As I meditated on these passages it was like the Holy Father was speaking to me and to all of us through the words of St. Paul. In verses 3-11 he spoke of how he has always been encouraged by our mission (evident in the two separate responses we have received from him personally) and that we are to continue the work the Lord has begun with great commitment and sacrifice. In verses 12-14 he shares how his imprisonment (sickness) has worked out best for the preaching of the Gospel and the growth of the Church. There is no question that his suffering was a testimony to the whole world that there is dignity and value in God given life. Verse 18 hit home, being that it is one of the founding tenants of CCO. It was as if he shared with me that his heart is the same as the heart of CCO, “that all that maters is that Jesus be proclaimed.” Then the passage finishes off with speaking of how both in his life and in his death, the Lord will be magnified through him. This is the essence of what was experienced in St. Peter’s Square and throughout Rome, that day – his death and his life magnified the greatness of the Lord. Amazingly it seems to be the same experience around the world and even in our own country.
I will always regret not witnessing this great event in history with my own eyes. But I know now why I was there and what I was to bring home. If I had been in the Square I would have brought home a memory of an event, but because I had to search inside for meaning I brought home a legacy. The vision and work of CCO has always been and will continue to be the great joy of John Paul II. This should be, in fact, this needs to be a source of encouragement and motivation to intensity our efforts in preaching the Gospel to establish the Kingdom of God in the midst of the civilization of man (with the help of the intercession of a new Blessed). What is going to have lasting and historical contribution to the Church and the world is that we not simply remember JPII but that we act upon his words as he acted upon the words of Christ. “Follow me as I follow Christ.”