Thursday, April 10, 2008

Linda's Pilgrimage for "Papa"

When asked in a recent interview what the Pope's visit meant to the church here in the States, it was a gift to cite one particular story from the ranks of this readership: a sister in Hawaii I've gotten to know well who hasn't left the islands in two decades, never seen a Pope but who, even while needing dialysis, is coming to New York.

So it seems, and gratefully so, that was just the first note made of Linda Cacpal's story.

An RCIA team leader at her parish -- which welcomed 18 converts this Easter -- member of the diocesan pastoral council, and seemingly more groups than any of the rest of us could keep up with, Linda told me the other night that she's gotten quite the outpouring of press calls on her pilgrimage to see Papa Ratzi.

Today, Hawaii's paper of record gives Linda and her pilgrimage a piece all her own:
Linda Cacpal, religious education coordinator at St. Elizabeth Parish in 'Aiea, wasn't always a fan of Pope Benedict XVI.

I decided I needed to know more about him because I didn't like him, as Cardinal Ratzinger," explained the 'Aiea woman, 55. "I was a grad student then (earning a master's of divinity) and my view of him was very rigid. It must have been the Holy Spirit telling me, 'You cannot go on as (religious education) coordinator and not liking the Holy Father."

Now, in Hawai'i, you'd be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan, or someone willing to go to such lengths just to hear Mass said by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide.

Cacpal is making her first trek to the East Coast for the papal Mass at Yankee Stadium on April 20, one of more than three dozen Hawai'i residents from various islands making the long trip for Benedict's first U.S. visit. He'll also stop in Washington, D.C.

What makes Cacpal's quest so unusual is that she's a dialysis patient. That means that before she even checks into her hotel, she must find her way to Southern Manhattan Dialysis Center to get a consultation for her three-times-a-week kidney treatments.

"That's all right. The Holy Father is worth it," said Cacpal, whose kidneys began failing about 1 1/2 years ago.

Cacpal retired from her job with the state, but still volunteers at St. Elizabeth's. When she discovered that tickets would be available for the papal Mass through the diocese here, she called right away.

The bishop's office "told me I was the first one," she said.

Cacpal could even be considered a font of info about the pope, even correcting a cardinal about papal trivia.

When Cardinal Edward Egan of the New York archdiocese wrote about the pope for the diocesan newspaper Catholic New York, she came across a line that said then-Bishop Ratzinger was made a cardinal after he arrived in Rome.

"I was reading it (online), and thought, 'Well, that's not right,' " the eagle-eyed Cacpal said.

She sent a note about the mistake to the editor and it was quickly corrected....

Cacpal's change of heart began with her reading, after all.

Now with two tall columns of books at her desk — many by or about Benedict — she recalled doing her first Google search of his name in July 2005.

"I only got about a million hits," she said.

Not long after, she was at Kahala Mall, waiting to meet a friend, a gift card from Borders burning a hole in her pocket. She walked to the store and inquired about writings by Ratzinger.

"First name?" the clerk asked, tick-tick-ticking at the keyboard.

When he heard her response, his face lit up, she said, and he responded: "Oh, Papa! Right over here."

That started her softening stance. Then, she picked up "Milestones & History of Christianity."

"I really started to like him," she said. "His style of writing, his whole life, he can write poetically, positively, graciously."

With Ratzinger chief theologian at the Vatican, it seemed only his judgment was visible, Cacpal said, but him "being a very private sort of person, you don't see his best side."

Much came through the writings that spoke to her, namely, how he tried to resign, but Pope John Paul II wouldn't let him: "He's a good Christian soldier. His words and actions express what he writes. He always talks about the cross being the most radical symbol of love."

After she got her ticket to the Mass, a friend offered her some frequent flier miles. Another helped her get a hotel room.

It's as if it were part of someone's grand plan.

"I'm flying to New York on the wings of the Holy Spirit working through my friends and pastors at St. Elizabeth," Cacpal added later, via e-mail. "All my friends are saints.

"They are and have been praying for me and even lending me things I'll need for the trip — luggage, binoculars, veil, insulated jacket (everyone seems to think it will be cold and snowing in N.Y.!) and even to the extent of offering their frequent flier miles to cover the cost of my airfare and putting the cost of the hotel room on their credit card so I could book online (which, of course, I am paying back)."

"I said, 'Do I really want to do this?' and left it up to God," she said. "I figured he was just blessing me with it. The least I could do was say 'Thank you' and go."
Folks, this is great.

Linda's friends have been asking if there's some way she could get to meet the Pope. For what it's worth, there's more than a few who could think of no one better to get that moment with him.

His schedule might be tight... then again, with a bit of faith, as they say, all things are possible....

Linda'll be writing a "pilgrim journal" for Honolulu's diocesan paper. Come next week, keep an eye out for it.

PHOTO: Deborah Booker/Honolulu Advertiser