April 21, 2008

The legacy of John Paul II: Answering the call (reverts and converts)

[This is from my blog archive. I originally posted this on March 26, 2006.]

The pope's death a year ago has drawn many believers to Catholicism. Reading this article revived the heartache I felt at John Paul's death and funeral; it also renewed the affectionate gratitude I have for him.


Salt Lake Tribune, March 25, 2006

Like people all over the world, Steven Tilley of Ogden was rapt last April as Pope John Paul II suffered the last ravages of Parkinson's disease and died his very publicized death in Rome.
Tilley marveled over the devotion of the crowds in St. Peter's Square and arose in the night to watch the live funeral broadcast, even though he had long before stopped attending the Roman Catholic Church with his mother, immersed himself in the Baptist and FourSquare churches and wandered from the pews altogether.
"Catholicism was on the news all the time, 24-7 Vatican coverage," says Tilley. "When he died, I totally felt like we lost something unbelievably special."
But Tilley, 24, was not prepared for what happened next. He was seized, day and night, by the conviction that he must become a Catholic priest.
"I could think of nothing but the priesthood," says Tilley.
Reconciled to the Catholic Church, Tilley is now active at St. Joseph's Parish in Ogden and has applied to become a priest for the Diocese of Salt Lake City. He'll receive the sacraments he missed as a boy - Eucharist and Confirmation - at the Easter Vigil Mass, and if all goes well, he'll enter the seminary in fall 2007.
Tilley is not the only Utahn who believes that God used the occasion of the pope’s death to call them to faith.
Don Sleeper of Logan says the death of the pope, a man he always had admired, was the catalyst in his conversion.
A scrub tech at a surgical hospital, 58-year-old Sleeper had flirted with a half-dozen Protestant sects, the Anglican and Catholic churches as well as Buddhism as he moved around the world over the years.
After arising in the wee hours to watch John Paul II's funeral, Sleeper called St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Logan to learn more about Catholicism. A new class for adults was starting that evening, and he joined in.
"It brought everything together for me - everything I've been looking for," says Sleeper, who will be baptized and receive the sacraments at Easter at St. Thomas Aquinas.
Diane Seiler of Brigham City says the pope's death brought to the surface her long-held, vague feeling that she should be Catholic, the faith in which her husband and mother were raised.
"I was just sad, very sad," she says. "I felt cheated."
A year later, she is completing the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults class at St. Henry's Catholic Church in Brigham City, and will be baptized at the Easter Vigil Mass.
Her husband is active again in his faith, and their 14-year-old daughter, Haley, will join her mother in receiving the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confirmation at Easter. Haley was baptized as an infant.
'Be not afraid'
Maxine Kaiser, director of liturgy for the Salt Lake City Diocese, says the number of people coming into the church in Utah this Easter - 525 - is more than last year, but there were even more in 2004.
It's hard to say whether the pope's death triggered the increase this year, because people are drawn to the church for a variety of reasons, she says.
Still, Kaiser has heard enough anecdotes from those who teach adult formation classes to know Pope John Paul has had an impact on many lives.
It's the same for most of the 11 men studying for the priesthood for the Utah diocese, says the Rev. Colin Bircumshaw, pastor at St. Ann Parish in Salt Lake City and vocation director for the diocese.
"For so many of our young people, that's the only pope they've known," says Bircumshaw. "For them, he had a very powerful impact on their vocations."
Pope John Paul II - the former Karol Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow, Poland - became pope in October 1978.
Four men will be ordained to the priesthood in Utah this spring, the highest number in many years.
John Paul II, who began his papacy with the admonition "Be not afraid!" was admired by people throughout the world as a charismatic champion of peace, religious freedom and human dignity. He was credited with building bridges to Islam and the Jewish faith, and for his role in resisting first the Nazis in his native Poland and, later, helping to end Communist rule of Poland and the former Soviet Union.
His jailhouse visit to and forgiveness of the man who shot him as well as his patient suffering of Parkinson's gave a Christian witness that many considered holy.
Through dozens of poems, plays, letters and books, in his world travels and at World Youth Day gatherings with million of young people, Pope John Paul tried to tell the modern world of the church's relevance, particularly in the turmoil following the second Vatican Council of the early 1960s.
"Through him we had a definite understanding of what it meant to be a Catholic Christian," says Lynn Johnson, a deacon at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City.
For priests and seminarians, it was John Paul's devotion to prayer and the Eucharist, which Catholics believe to be the body of Christ under the appearance of bread, that had the most profound effect.
"Anyone who had a small, private Mass with him came out a changed person," says Johnson. "He brought us back to a deeper understanding of what [the Eucharist] means."
Thomas Stinger, a seminarian from Roosevelt who is studying at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, Calif., says he now realizes what lay beneath the pope's far-ranging achievements: "He was always a very prayerful person. He had this spirituality that drove all of it."
The Rev. Jan Bednarz, pastor of St. Martin de Porres Parish in Taylorsville, was a young priest in Poland who came to America about the same time the archbishop left Krakow for Rome. A student of the pope's philosophical and theological writing, Bednarz says he always has admired John Paul's courage.
"He speaks the truth, he doesn't compromise," says Bednarz.
Meanwhile, John Paul's writings mean he is still shepherding his people, Bednarz says. "He is not done yet."
Stinger, the seminarian, agrees.
"He's still very much with us."


Blogger Harrison said...

It's great, we have an 17 year old in RCIA who looked into the faith and has decided to join it because of the death of John Paul II and how it exposed him to the faith and to see so many people in love with Christ and His Church through the event. It's really amazing.


4:47 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

At daily Mass during Lent, I add to the prayers of the faithful a petition for those preparing for Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist.

May God bless them and you!

8:50 AM  

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