Washington D.C., Oct 28, 2014 / 04:48 am .- Saint John Paul II’s deep love for the world and for God continues to inspire people today to draw near to Christ, teaching them not only about sanctity, but about humanity, say those who were close to the late Pope.
“He was just a human being and he taught me how to be a person, how to be a man,” said Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv, Ukraine, who served as papal secretary under Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
“We lost our beloved pope when he died, but this sense of sorrow has been transformed in the joy of him being a saint.”
Saint John Paul II’s first universal feast day after his canonization earlier this year was celebrated on Oct. 22, the anniversary of his papal inauguration.
Speaking to CNA on the feast day, Archbishop Mokrzycki relayed some of his favorite stories of John Paul II, highlighting the saint’s love for the world.
Once, when traveling to Mexico, the archbishop said, faithful in the country flooded outside, using mirrors to try to reflect light at the plane, hoping to catch the Pope’s attention.
“John Paul was very impressed by the creativity of the Mexican faithful,” Archbishop Mokrzycki remembered. “He was smiling.”
The late Pope expressed his love for the world in private moments, his secretary continued, explaining that John Paul II “not only blessed us during the Angelus or every Sunday at Urbi et Orbi, but he would bless us every day.”
“By the end of each day, around 10:30 p.m., he would go to the chapel, he would pray for a short period of time, he would go back to his bedroom and come up to the window,” the archbishop said. “He would dim the lights or turn them off, he would open up the interior window, and then he would bless the world.
“He would bless the pilgrims walking by St. Peter’s square, the Eternal City of Rome, and the whole world.”
Archbishop Mokrzycki explained that this private ritual of blessing the world each night was known only to a few: “Benedict XVI didn’t even know about this” until after the late Pope’s death, he explained.
The newly-canonized Pope will always be remembered for his love of youth, as well as his example of prayer and trust in God, the archbishop said. But he will also be remembered for showing what it means to be fully human.
Even in death, Archbishop Mokrzycki said, “He’s still present among us. I feel that he still intercedes for us, he’s among us and prays for us.”
Father Francis Florczyk, a priest who grew up in Krakow under then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, also shared his memories of the prelate who inspired him to join the seminary.
The priest explained that Cardinal Wojtyla had an impact on the local Catholic youth.
He recalled one camping trip in which some of the students and their pastor climbed a nearby mountain. Those who did not wish to participate in the morning hike remained behind in a small village.
When they returned from the hike, the students who stayed behind described how they had been confronted by the Soviet secret police, who took their personal documents and collected information.
The police, Fr. Florczyk recalled, told the students that if they continued to be active in the youth group, they could “forget about” continuing school and graduating.
The next day, “the cardinal came from Krakow, about 50 miles, to us before morning Mass.” The future Pope then celebrated Mass “to encourage us and to say to us ‘be not afraid. Be thankful and trust Jesus.’”
After celebrating Mass, the head of police came to the students’ parish to apologize to Cardinal Wojtyla for causing trouble.
In addition to his deep love and serious thought, Pope John Paul II was a comic man, Fr. Florczyk added, describing how the then-cardinal “loved to sing together” with the seminarians, and would often come to the seminary for comedy nights and sketches.
Describing the Pope as a “man of hope and really holy,” the priest explained that Cardinal Wojtyla made a great impact on the young men enrolled in the seminary in Krakow. “He touched us very deeply with his very open heart to Jesus.”
From his relationship with the saint both in Krakow and after John Paul II’s election to the papacy, “I received strong spiritual power to continue my ministry as a priest, to be closer to Jesus,” Fr. Florczyk said.
“Today I am calling to his intercession in heaven to be like him, to continue my ministry on earth according to our Jesus who is risen.”