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Recollections and Reflections on the late Pope John Paul II (PJP II) who was beatified on May 1, 2011 (Divine Mercy Sunday) and will be canonized later this year (December 8, 2013 [Feast of the Immaculate Conception]?) with the late Pope John XXIII . Memories of PJP II's 1987 Visit to New Orleans and influence on my life, including a cd that I dedicated to him: "The Promised Rainbow: The Covenant For Life (www.cpforlife.org/rainbow)."
As noted in Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven, A time to be born, and a time to die” which the Byrds made into the famous “Turn, Turn, Turn” song. On May 1, 2011, a new season will begin for the late and great Pope John Paul II (PJP II), as he will be beatified in Rome on the Feast of Divine Mercy, one week after Easter Sunday. In many ways, like St. Thomas Moore, PJP II is recognized as a “Man For All Seasons” for how he demonstrated the light of hope to the world and how he sought to dispel the darkness and death with a counterculture and emphasis on life and obedience to the Church.
It was neat to be reminded last month of the 10th anniversary of my first musical cd, “The Promised Rainbow: The Covenant For Life,” which I dedicated to PJP II and to a local not-for-profit agency dedicated to life causes. I still have an Advocate newspaper picture on our refrigerator from 02/15/2001, when my first batch of these cds were delivered to our house, which coincidentally depicts a beautiful rainbow – and the First Scriptural Reading in the Catholic Church for that day was Genesis 9: 1-13, which denotes the rainbow covenant sign that was given by God to Noah!
The first song from that cd, “The Promised Rainbow,” is dedicated to PJP II and how he inspired me then to deal with some dark episodes in my own life:
It looks like there might be a rainbow, The sun and the clouds are both here, The storms have left scars I can't let go, But maybe there's hope beyond fear
You came in my life like a rainbow, When darkness and light were both here, The struggles of past times I couldn't let go, But John Paul you're my hope and Pope beyond fear
Chorus: Shepherd me closely to Jesus, our Savior and Lord, I trust in your guidance and obey in silence the Lamb adored
Now John Paul I have my own rainbow,That comes out in darkness and light, It's here to be seen with your own glow, Together we make such a sight
We're separate yet joined by the One Light, A rainbow that doubled to see, Together we make such a sight, Love is what joins and sets free - Father/Jesus/Spirit - Chorus www.cpforlife.org/rainbow
Recently, it was exciting to recall PJP II's first visit ever to New Orleans back in 1987. We lived in the uptown area of that city back then, so we were close to the Archdiocese of New Orleans where then Archbishop Philip M. Hannan, who will celebrate his 98th birthday on this May 20, resided and hosted the pope for the visit. It was so exciting to go by the adjacent Notre Dame Seminary area and hope to get a quick glance of PJP II.
Since I had been an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister of Holy Communion through our church parish, the Most Holy Name of Jesus, I had the wonderful opportunity to be able to assist with PJP II's Outdoor Mass that was held on the campus of UNO! With over 130,000 worshipers in attendance, it was a special privilege to participate in helping with the distribution of the Holy Eucharist to some of the participants. How can I forget the deluge of rain that came on us briefly before the Mass started and then quickly ended as PJP II was driven up to the Outdoor Altar in the “Pope Mobile!”
My wife and I have a special remembrance from the pope's New Orleans visit per a book, His Holiness PJP II Visits The City of New Orleans, that Archbishop Hannan completed covering all of the main events of the trip, including the Outdoor Mass at UNO, Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter, a “Mardi Gras” like parade down Canal Street, events at the packed Superdome, and gatherings at Xavier University. We also have a picture from the Clarion Herald Archdiocesan newspaper in December, 1987 depicting my wife and I with our daughter getting a signature from Archbishop Hannan when the book came out. It was funny to note how the NO Saints football team had their then best record of 12-3 after PJP II's September 9 - 11th visit in 1987 which many of us “Aints” attributed to the intercession of the pope!
Since I like to use my full name, even professionally, as “Keith John Paul Horcasitas,” I used to tease people that I was a “pope” before JP I or JP II, as my Baptism name is John for the late Pope John XXIII who was reigning when I was born, and my Confirmation name is Paul for the Pope Paul VI. Both my wife and I were so inspired by PJP II that we named our third child after him!
PJP II and Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta have always been my modern heroes and role models for demonstrating how to live and die a life as a Christian. It was such a privilege to be a contemporary with them as they both so clearly showed how to be faithful to the challenge of “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Mt. 25: 40) I have no doubt that since both of them will have been declared as “Blessed” after May 1st, it would not be a surprise to me if they were both canonized in the very near future on the same day!
There have been many wonderful books and accounts written about our beloved PJP II, including George Weigel's compelling Official Biography of the pontiff, Witness to Hope. Recently, per the local Community Catholic Radio station (WPYR), I heard about some neat upcoming special stories that Joan Lewis, EWTN’s Bureau Chief, is compiling from church prelates and others who have had personal encounters with PJP II.
Ms. Lewis noted how the vast majority of people she's interviewed for this project were so touched by PJP II's leadership, prayer life, humanity and humor. To this day, I firmly believe that both PJP II and then President Ronald Reagan were clearly the main driving forces for helping to bring down the Berlin Wall.
Thank you, Pope PJP II for such an inspiring life and death – you showed me and all of us so poignantly how to live and die for the faith! I will always treasure that announcement on October 16, 1978: “Habemus Papam (We have a Pope!) - Carol Wojtyla,” and I look forward to the day of your canonization!
Keith John Paul Horcasitas, 1133 Knollhaven Drive, BRLA 70810, khorcasitas.yahoo.com, April 3, 2011.