It took just a moment, little more than a
second. Standing in a Vatican hallway in late March 2003, I waited with
an ELCA delegation for an audience with Pope John Paul II. Suddenly, a
double door flashed open down the corridor revealing an auditorium
packed with people. And I saw John Paul from the back.
Dressed in white, his left arm stretched as high as he could lift it, he waved to a throng of several thousand pilgrims, whose muffled cheers and singing had been filtering through the walls. An aide had angled his chair so he could see and bless them one last time.
That moment—a single arm raised in blessing—remains fixed in my mind. I saw: He and the pilgrims lifted each other. They became more alive in the love, the holy communion, they shared, elevating each other into a transcendence they couldn’t reach alone. For that moment, he was wholly given to them and they to him. The moment was total gift. Grace. A sacrament bearing God’s love for all.
The public face of John Paul’s dying was much the same. Wholly given to the promise of God, he soldiered on, letting the world see his grinding diminishment, a vision at times excruciating to watch.
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