Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Papal memories

Gustin took an hour and a half nap today in bed and it's amazing how better I feel this evening. Why, I'm down right perky! Since Pope Benedict's historical visit, I've been wanting to post about my memories of another time a pope came to the US and tonight I just might get it done.

OK, it's been about 18 hours since I wrote the above. Life intervened, beginning with Elizabeth accidentally falling over on top of Gustin and it went down hill from there. But, Gustin is again down for a nap so we'll see how far I can get this time. :)

Growing up I went to our local Catholic elementary school, which I absolutely loved. My sister (who was one year behind me in school) and I were both in the school choir. Looking back, that fact is really funny because I can not sing. I try, but really, it is not good. But, lucky for me, singing ability was not a requirement for joining the choir. During my fourth grade year, Pope John Paul II came to the US and his trip included a stop in San Antonio, Texas. Our choir teacher decided that we should audition to be one of the choirs who would sing at the large outdoor mass that JPII would say during his visit.

I remember going up to school one weekend and singing several simple hymns (such as Like a Sunflower and Sing a New Song) over and over again while our choir teacher tried to capture our best attempts on a little cassette player/recorder. Our innocent, unpolished voices must have impressed someone because we were chosen to be one of the choirs featured before mass. We were all so excited, even though at the time we really didn't understand how unique this opportunity was.

When the big day finally came for our trip to San Antonio, we all arrived at school at three o'clock in the morning to board the bus. Even though I don't think I had ever gotten up that early in my whole life, I was not tired but instead bubbling with excitement. We had a very busy day ahead of us. After a 5 or 6 hour bus ride to San Antonio, we went to the grounds where the mass was to be held so we could practice and get instructions about the mass that would be the next day. That evening we settled in at a dormitory of a local convent. I have fond memories of playing heartily on the green, grassy grounds and finally falling into an exhausted sleep on the floor of the dormitory surrounded by classmates and chaperons.

The next morning we again awoke very early, dressed in our school uniforms, ate muffins and pastries supplied by the sisters and went back to the mass venue. Security was much tighter this time. I remember going through metal detectors which was fascinating to me. We had brought a banner with our motto on it, "We who sing pray twice," but we were not allowed to bring in the rods that formed the stand for it. Instead we all took turns holding it up ourselves.

Seats were reserved for us immediately to the right of the altar. A massive platform that seemed as big as a mountain to my ten year old eyes had been erected with the altar on top. Even though we were right next to it, when JPII was saying mass he looked so small and far away.

We sang a couple of hours before mass began. I remember being disappointed because the pope wasn't actually there to hear us sing. It was all over so quickly that I hardly remember the actual singing though I do remember the massive line of port-a-potties that we passed on the way to the stage. Isn't it strange the things we remember?

We next went back to our seats to await the arrival of the pope. The area where our seats were was roped off and the path that the pope-mobile would travel on went right past us. Our chaperons gave us strict instructions that we must remain in our seats and could not run up to the ropes when the pope drove by. Of course, as soon as we could catch a glimpse of the pope-mobile on the way, all the adults ran to the ropes to see. None of us kids could see him even though we stood on our chairs. I remember thinking it was so unfair that the adults didn't follow their own rules!

We then settled in for the mass. I remember hearing JPII's voice on the PA system echoing across the massive grounds, first in English, then in Spanish. Too bad I can't remember a word of what he said. It wasn't long before my exhausted little body fell asleep sitting up in my chair. My friend's mother, who was traveling with us, propped up an umbrella to shade me so I wouldn't get a sunburn while I slept. I was awoken just in time for communion. After receiving we had to leave the mass, pile in the bus, and begin the long journey home.

We felt like celebrities back at home. Our pictures were on the front page of the local newspaper and all the local television stations covered our trip.

I treasure all these memories of my one and only encounter with Pope John Paul II. I feel privileged to have been able to sing for him (even if he wasn't there!). I dearly miss our Holy Father and am so grateful for the wonderful gift he was to us, the church.

Pope John Paul the Great, pray for us!

1 comment:

Lillian said...

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful memory! How awesome!