ROME — U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Miguel Diaz hosted a small reception at his residence last night to celebrate Blessed Pope John Paul II’s beatification.
The gathering included several U.S. cardinals and three former ambassadors: Jim Nicholson, Francis Rooney and Frank Shakespeare, all of whom served during Blessed John Paul’s pontificate, and all of whom had some remembrances to share over refreshments.
Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington remarked that this was one of those days — and there are relatively few in life — when you will look back and say: I was there. The liturgy and the other beatification events all felt momentous because they were.
The consensus among the Americans was that the most emotional moment during the beatification liturgy came when Blessed John Paul’s relic, a vial of blood that could be clearly seen in its silver reliquary, was carried to the altar. As one cardinal remarked, this was the same blood that was spilled in the same St. Peter’s Square in the attempt on the pope’s life in 1981.
Ambassador Diaz spoke about the breadth of Blessed John Paul’s pontificate, and recalled how he first saw the pope close-up during his trip to the United States in 1987.
Here is the text of the ambassador’s remarks:
When the newly-elected Pope John Paul II came out onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square on October 16th 1978, he immediately captured the heart of Italians with his words: “Non so se posso bene spiegarmi nella vostra …nostra lingua Italiana. Se mi sbaglio mi corregerete.” With his election the Catholic Church – and, indeed, the whole world — began a 27-year relationship with a pastor whose ministry bridged profound change. During those years, European communism collapsed. Decades-long dictatorships fell, and sadly, new ones emerged. The space shuttles began flying. Communications and information technology developed at an astonishing rate. New diseases baffled scientists, while others were all but eradicated. We developed new strains of plants to feed the hungry and new drugs to treat the sick. People became more environmentally aware. And, perhaps most importantly for us, the United States and the Holy See established formal diplomatic relations.
John Paul II’s ministry spanned generations X, Y, and Z. While we sometimes speak of generational conflicts caused by differences in expectations, Blessed John Paul II possessed a unique ability to meet people at all stages of life and draw them upward. He was a man of the people who renounced the protocols of the papacy to wear a sombrero, try on Bono’s sunglasses, joke with the media, and wave his cane above his head like a rock star in front of a million young people at World Youth Day.
I remember when he came to Miami in 1987 and the welcome he received in my home town. I can still hear the crowds shouting: “Juan Pablo Segundo te ama todo el mundo, John Paul II, we love you!” I was then a college student who had been selected among the youth of Miami to be a banner carrier during the papal mass. A few years later in seminary and throughout my graduate studies in philosophy and theology at the University of Notre Dame, I studied his thought and learned about his personalism, his theology of the body, and his social teachings. Throughout his pontificate, John Paul II tirelessly defended the dignity of human persons, condemned oppressive regimes, denounced evil and injustices whether of economic or socio-political origins. In addition, as exemplified in Centesimus Annus, he underscored the preferential love of the poor and the need to empower and include those most in need within our human family.
John Paul II was a man who soldiered on bravely in the face of an assassination attempt and the incapacitating illness that came with age. Today we’re all happy and proud to have been part of a tremendous celebration here in this eternal city of Rome. It is a joyous day not only for the Catholic Church, but for all those who saw in Blessed John Paul II a reflection of the divine and a sign of hope.
May I ask you to raise your glasses and join me in a toast.
To Blessed John Paul II! May we learn from his example and continue to build bridges for the sake of our entire human family and all of God’s creation!