I was eight years old when he was elected and I learned soon afterwards that I was born on the Holy Father's 50th birthday.
I was seventeen when he came to California and my family saw him at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterrey (along with 50,000 other people!). It was so very moving to be there, even though we saw him from a great distance. I'm sure the Holy Spirit moved us in that place (as Minnesota Mom so ably described her experience at World Youth Day in 1993). I do remember that I had a hard time understanding the homily (I've always been rather poor at auditory processing - the crowd, the distance, the sound system, etc. didn't help), and hoped to read it later. Now I can! When he departed in an army helicopter, everyone was waving and crying and I was compelled to climb a bit of scaffolding nearby - to be closer, to express my enthusiasm, I don't know what, but it was a very memorable experience.
The rest of the connection to me is more wrapped up in his presence of faith, hope and optimism that carried through my awareness of Communism and his involvement in its collapse. Such a witness to the power of faith and hope! Such a powerful testimony to the reality that God raises up saints to change the world with him! When I am overwhelmed with the evil that goes on in this world; when I am frightened for my children and the harm that might come to them; it is his "Be Not Afraid!" that puts me back on the right track. His words were brought to life for me and so many others by his witness and by his actions during his lifetime - particularly as he continued to work and witness even in his suffering and illness.
Here's one of my very favorite articles published around the time of his death which tells an important piece of this story so very beautifully...
Why, the pope asked, had God lifted a Pole to the papacy? Perhaps it was because of how Poland had suffered for centuries, and through the 20th century had become "the land of a particularly responsible witness" to God. The people of Poland, he suggested, had been chosen for a great role, to understand, humbly but surely, that they were the repository of a special "witness of His cross and His resurrection." He asked then if the people of Poland accepted the obligations of such a role in history.
The crowd responded with thunder.
"We want God!" they shouted, together. "We want God!"
What a moment in modern history: We want God. From the mouths of modern men and women living in a modern atheistic dictatorship.
Read the whole article here.
I gathered a bunch of goodies (as well as the ever-present book reviews) at the time of his death on this love2learn page (I didn't start blogging until later that month, otherwise I probably would have posted the links here).
Look for a whole "fair" remembering Pope John Paul II here later today.
Also see "Pope John Paul II: One Step Closer to Beatification"