My first encounter with John Paul II was when I was 15 on his Papal visit to St. Louis. In his address to young people there, he said, “Young friends…remember: Christ is calling you; the Church needs you; the Pope believes in you and expects great things of you!” Never before had I been convicted of my personal call to holiness. I knew that he spoke with authority because his very life was a testament to holiness. He radiated truth and love. He told me that my life mattered to him, to the Church, and to Christ. At that moment, this feeble Polish Pope won my heart and my lifelong fidelity to Christ and His Church.
From then on, I also became something of a JPII groupie. I bought The Jeweller’s Shop movie, which is based on a play he wrote as a young bishop in Kraków, I would listen to a CD of him praying the rosary in Latin on my way to high school, I went to World Youth Day in Toronto, and then spent three months with him in Rome while I was studying abroad in college. I remember the last time that I saw him and I remember crying in the street when I first heard that he had died. It was as if my own grandpa had died. He had been such a huge part of my life and had given me courage to make decisions that have shaped me into the woman I am today.
So, being on that muggy train in Poland was less of a discomfort and more of a gift. I’d waited all these years to go to the place that formed this holy man. This very place has been totally transformed because of one man’s response to God’s call. Still today, the devotion of the Poles is unmatched in Europe. I’ve seen many churches in many countries, and none are filled like they are in Poland. Masses are packed, adoration chapels are filled, young and old, men and women, are on their knees. They’ve ousted the Nazis, the Communists, and those who would take away their culture and their heritage. Priestly and religious vocations are common and encouraged.
John Paul II still gives me courage today. He is doing more from heaven than he ever did on earth. I am a missionary today largely because of him, and I will always look to his heroic witness as I continue to strive to live a holy life and respond to God’s call.
Blessed John Paul II, pray for us, for Poland, for Europe, and for the world. Dear young people, do not be afraid to open wide the doors to Christ!
By Guest Blogger Trish Metzger, FOCUS Missionary