Three students of the Catholic Studies undergraduate degree program (two graduates and one sophomore) reflect on the ministry of Pope John Paul II, the experience of seeing him in person, and the influence his life and teaching had on their calling. Shea Pesci, World Youth Day Participant In summer 2002, the representative of Christ on Earth came to Toronto. Thousands of young people from around the world flocked there to worship Christ. The six-day event — full of speakers and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament — culminated in an all-night vigil and a morning Mass celebrated by the Holy Father. I was lucky enough to be one of the thousands of young people to see Pope John Paul II come to Downsview Park to celebrate World Youth Day. When he arrived, I managed to position myself only one person away from the police barricade. Applause, laughter and chants of “JPII, we love you!” roared through the crowd as he drove by in the popemobile. As I saw him round the corner and get closer to where I was standing, I studied him more closely. The deep wrinkles in his face and his small, hunched body gave him the appearance of a fragile, old man. His twinkling eyes and wide smile, however, showed his robust personality. The crowd was still chanting love for him in many diverse languages as he made his way to the stage. In response he told us, “JPII, loves you too.” This simple proclamation demonstrated the reciprocal and immense love that we had for this man and he had for us.
John Paul II’s example of faith, especially his devotion to Mary, was a constant reminder of how to live for Christ. Of course, living for Christ is not easy, but the confidence that the Pope had in the young people of the world gave us the assurance that we were not alone. We have the saints, angels, the Holy Mother, Mary, and the other young people of the world praying for us constantly. I will never forget those few precious moments when the great Pope John Paul II passed by me in the sea of young people on a hot summer day.
Brother Austin Litke, Novice for the Eastern Province of the Dominicans
In October 1941, Karol Wojtyla began his seminary studies for the priesthood. He did so, however, in the midst of Nazi occupation. So as not to be deported, he worked in a rock quarry and later in a chemical plant, during which time he would steal away to study and pray. It was under these conditions that Karol Wojtyla fought to respond to God’s call in his life. It is this fight that characterizes the response to God’s call to vocation in the life of every Christian. Granted, most calls are not as dramatic as of Pope John Paul II’s seminary days, but all are just as much a fight.
It was John Paul II’s early struggle that was most influential in my own vocational discernment. My path has not been as strenuous as his, but it has indeed been a fight. I have not had to fight against Nazi occupation, but rather against a world that often disdains the Church and her ministers and against my own unwillingness to follow the will of God. At times, I was tempted to take this struggle as a sign that priesthood was not my vocation. I have seen, however, that it was just this struggle toward which God was calling me.
Karol Wojtyla probably never imagined himself being anywhere but the parish and the university. God in His wisdom, however, called him to the Chair of St. Peter. It is this combination of struggle against evil and resignation to the will of God in the life of Pope John Paul II that has most impacted me in my response to the call of God.
Angie Lambert, Wife and Mother
When I started my undergraduate work at the University of St. Thomas, I had wonderful intentions of serving God along with admittedly mixed and somewhat worldly ambitions about how to go about it. I was not looking to get married and have kids right away. I love to learn and had in mind great theological accomplishments to pursue first — for the Lord of course. As I grew in my understanding of the faith, however, I could not avoid the truths expressed throughout Pope John Paul II’s pontificate. In both his writings and example, he taught me that God’s call is not rooted in a particular occupation as I had thought, but rather in a particular vocation. Repeatedly, he emphasized the fact that central to any true vocation is self-gift. Reading the encyclical “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women” opened my eyes to where my authentic self-gift was to be found. I discerned that God was not calling me to certain achievements; rather, He was calling me to sacrifice myself for others in the vocation of marriage. In this gift of my whole self, not just my talents, I would find grace and fulfillment. There was one problem: I felt helplessly ill equipped to be a mother! Still, I was comforted by the Pope’s words in “On the Dignity and Vocation of Women” that “the gift of interior readiness to accept the child and bring it into the world is linked to the marriage union.” This gave me hope.
Pope John Paul II not only taught Christ’s words that “anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mt 16:25), but he gave me great courage by living it. Who can forget his tremendous suffering in the last years of his life? By drawing so near to Christ, the Holy Father brought Christ near to us. His self-gift was complete and total, especially in his final hours. I hope that my life may be one of complete gift — that in the last hours of my life I may be completely spent and completely the Lord’s.