Today is the third anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II. He was the FDR of the Catholic world--many knew no other pope in their lifetime.
I remember the day he was elected. I was walking in the halls of my Catholic high school when they announced that the Polish cardinal, Karol Wojtyla, had been elected Pope. To say we were surprised, is an understatement. Many of us turned to each other and said, "Karol who?!"
He was an actor, an athlete and a poet. He reached out to members of other religions. He taught us about the dignity of life by refusing to hide his final illness from the world.
To some, sadly, John Paul II was "that old pope". Yet, he was an avid outdoorsman and athlete. As a priest in Poland, he used to go hiking and mountain climbing with groups of other young people, and say Mass outdoors. (Remember, this was Mass in Latin.) When he was elected to the Papacy in 1978, he was only 58 and still very much a sportsman.
What he was called to let go of in his older years, would have been, for many, an entire identity. The deep irony of his suffering from Parkinson's disease is that he was such a physical person who truly loved sports and the outdoors. I have often wondered if he wasn't called by God to suffer what he did precisely because it must have been such a sacrifice for him.
And, he embraced his suffering publicly, refusing to step down, showing the world how to truly die "with dignity." On God's own time.
Today, his cause for beatification is nearing completion in the Vatican.