John Paul II & Me
How a Polish pope befriended a Filipina feminist
Happy Feast Day of St. John Paul the Great! To celebrate, I wanted to share a little bit about my journey as a child of the JP II Generation.
The beloved Pope John Paul II has taken the hearts of many young people all over the world, and his magnanimity is ultimately what made me draw closer to him. Throughout his life, Karol Wojtyla suffered greatly, yet he rejected mediocrity over and over again. As an artist, he brought beauty into the world to preserve his Polish culture against oppression. Even after enduring the loss of his family, he entered the priesthood. His leadership, writing, and philosophy on the human person, marriage, family, and the inviolability of human life inspired and educated me over and over again.
A Child's Prayer
When I was just two years old, Pope John Paul II announced that he would be preparing the Church for the third millennium. The three years of 1997, 1998, and 1999 explored each person of the Trinity along with prayers of entrustment to Blessed Virgin Mary. From Christmas Eve 2000 to the Feast of the Epiphany 2001, the Great Jubilee took place in the Church, and with it, a Jubilee Indulgence.
I was merely a 9-year-old at the time, but I remember being fascinated by the idea of the indulgence. I did not understand the papacy or even the necessary practices needed to obtain the indulgence. After the death of my Lolo ("grandfather" in Tagalog, pictured above), I remembered praying that my Lolo would receive the indulgence if I did an act of a charity on his behalf. I wanted to ensure or expedite Lolo's entrance into Heaven.
A Teenager's Question
I would continue to go to Church every Sunday, but it wasn't until receiving my Catholic high school education that I encountered John Paul II again. My sophomore theology curriculum included an age-appropriate version of Theology of the Body. At sixteen (pictured at Filipino-American sweet sixteen/debut), my idea of relationships, marriage and family, and sexuality was in a formation process. At my confirmation, I felt a flame enkindled by the Holy Spirit in my heart. It actually burned, and I prayed God would be so kind as to use me as an instrument in His eternal plan.
A College Student's Calling
In 2013, I was a rising college senior and attended World Youth Day in Brazil. My parents divorced a few years prior, and I still had many questions about marriage and family, but I also had deep questions about my own role in it. Am I worthy of marriage? Do I have a religious vocation? World Youth Day exposed me to he Church's beauty and universality as I sat on Copacabana Beach in mass with the Pope hearing the Lord's Prayer in several different languages.
A legacy left behind by John Paul II, he said at his last World Youth Day,
"When...I wanted to start the World Youth Days,
I imagined a powerful moment in which the young people of the world
could meet Christ...and could learn from Him
how to be bearers of the Gospel to other young people."
The theme of the 2013 World Youth Day was Matthew 28:19's, "Go and make disciples of all nations." At the time, this spoke so clearly to me. I spent the fall of my senior year researching groups with whom I could serve. I wanted to stop at nothing to spread the Gospel. I imagined selling all my possessions like the rich young man in the gospels, and I was crushed when, on St. Thérèse of Lisieux's Feast Day of 2013, God clearly told me, "no." (Another story for another day). Still, the fire from my confirmation continued to burn because of John Paul II's dream for young people.
A Young Adult's Mission
After graduating college, instead of serving the world, I served my community at home, staying in the same office at the same desk where I interned. After a year and a half of college campus ministry, I began working in the pro-life movement.
I fell in love with the movement, passionate to advocate for the unborn, the vulnerable, the elderly, and all those affected by violence. I researched John Paul II's writing in the Gospel of Life. He wrote so clearly on the dignity of the human person, and I wanted so desperately for others to know this truth! In 2015, I attended a Theology of the Body camp, and I experienced healing in every facet of my life. I began to heal from childhood wounds, my parents' divorce, and the pain of failed relationships. The Lord gave me JP II's teachings and reflections not only as a source of healing, but as a model by which to live fully, authentically, and more human.
A Pilgrim's Healing
In the Year of Mercy 2016, I was particularly inspired at World Youth Day in Poland, when the theme was Mt. 5:7, "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." I visited many holy sites, and I am still receiving the graces today. In learning about John Paul II by visiting his home, I once again saw his magnanimous love for others throughout his life, even after so much suffering. His great love was woven throughout his childhood, priesthood, and papacy. As a beneficiary of John Paul II's witness, I experienced God's merciful love in a profound way. Over the next few years, my story of origin unraveled, leaving me with pain, confusion, and existential guilt, yet I continued to hope.
An Artist's Gift
In 2019, I attended GIVEN Forum, a Catholic women's leadership conference. My healing process was transformational. At this conference, I was brought again to John Paul II, particularly his teaching on woman and the feminine genius. My circumstances, careers, and homes have changed throughout my lifetime, but I know I can trust on the constant presence of John Paul II in my life. Of course I am called by God to serve his people, but I also feel called by John Paul II to offer my unique gifts to the world to build a culture of life and a civilization of love.
I continue to be a child of the JP II generation through my studies at Divine Mercy University. His life, philosophy, and teaching is beauty which brings me hope. To close, from an artist to an artist, I feel this particular invitation of John Paul II to be most fitting:
"All men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make it a work of art, a masterpiece."