Whenever the pope ends up in hospital -- therefore, basically this whole month -- I put my body clock on Rome time to keep up with things as they happen. It's been a long week, and I haven't written because I've just been lost in my thoughts.
The press coverage, though hyperventilating at times, has been incredible, and incredibly moving. There's been this fascinating juxtaposition of images: the grainy footage of a young, sprightly John Paul in his first days packaged against the real time shots of people at prayer in Wadowice, New York, Rome and every parish church in between. And everyone's coming up with their own pope memories.
My first John Paul experience came in October, 1995 when the pope came back to the East Coast. I was in the rain with the 90,000 strong for Jimmy Hoffa's funeral mass at Giants Stadium. Ever the greatest at making lemonade of lemons, a soaked to the bone Ted McCarrick -- then archbishop of Newark, of course -- greeted the Big Boss by saying, "We had been praying for rain because of the drought. We didn't realize our prayers were so powerful." (And McCarrick weighs 120 when soaked to the bone. It's a miracle no one got electrocuted that day while handling or speaking into the mics.)
The theology of Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II, holds as one of its core concepts the Christian vocation of being a "sign of contradiction" in the world. In these days, we're witnessing the ultimate manifestation of that principle -- in this unprecedented moment of a pope's public weakness, what could be the most destabilizing event for the papacy and the church has become a rallying point and the people have circled the wagons.
For all my ideas and advocacies of resignation, and I still hold to them, I've been terribly moved by the testimonies of the infirm and elderly among the flock for whom the pope's persistence is an inspiration and morale-booster as they fight the battles in their own lives. Placing issues of good governance aside, that is immeasurably special. It's served to remind my ecclesiastical conscience that the Bollettino is one thing and witness is another -- and the latter has the larger audience seeking it.
Whatever happens, cherish these days. It's doubtful we'll ever see anything like them again.