It happened ten years ago. It was Saturday and the Eve of the ‘Divine Mercy Sunday’, which is usually celebrated on the Sunday after Easter. John Paul II had a great devotion to Divine Mercy, in fact it was he himself who established the second Sunday of Easter to be dedicate to it.
I remember where I was that day in 2005, on 2nd April. I still lived in Croatia at the time, last few months before I would move to Ireland. Four of us, ‘friends in faith’ I will call us, met on a regular basis to share what was going on in our lives and where we were in our walk with God. That day we were in the house of our oldest friend, who was like our ‘mother in faith’, on the hills of Zagreb. We prayed, we watched the news from Rome, we shared our thoughts, perhaps with no words we shared our pain too. His death influenced me a lot. He was the only Pope I knew at the time and with his great interest in the youth, he marked my years as a young believer. How could he be dead? Even now as I am remembering it my eyes fill with tears. And remembering it on Holy Thursday this year gives it even deeper meaning.
I was privileged to be able to go to the funeral, to Rome. One of Croatian secular newspapers offered, if I recall correctly, seven or eight buses to go to Rome; for us who went the journey was for free, the newspaper covered the cost. My Baptist friend, who worked for one of the organisations that were offered free tickets, asked if I wanted to go and naturally I said ‘yes’. We arrived at Tor Vergata, the field near Rome, in the early morning of the 8th April, the day of the funeral. Some people went into town and even managed to come as close as the Vatican. I, however, decided to stay on Tor Vergata. That is where John Paul II celebrated the Mass at the end of the World Youth Day in 2000, which I attended. This place, this field, reminded me of him. I found a good spot in front of the big screen, so I could follow the funeral from it later on, and a few people from our group were there too.
One moment from that day is most memorable to me. Near the end of the funeral Mass, after the Holy Communion and after the Litany of the Saints, when they carried his coffin away, I started to weep really heavily. One girl who was near me held me tightly, I had only met her that day, I don’t even remember her name. She kept saying, “he is okay now, he is with God in heaven, he is okay now”. I kept weeping until I was able to utter through the tears, “I know, I am not worried about him. I know Who he lived for. I just miss him”. Later I reflected on that experience and I understood that those were also healing tears; I never really cried when someone died, something in me could not connect with the loss, I didn’t know how to grieve. John Paul II helped me to cry out those tears that were buried deep in me, and since then I know how to grieve.
As you know, tonight is not only the anniversary of John Paul II’s death, but more so it is Holy Thursday, time when we remember last moments of Jesus’ earthly life. Accompanying anyone into death is very sacred, as I have described above, even more so accompanying God. When we remember how it was to experience the death of someone who meant a lot to us, we may understand a little how it was for the disciples on Good Friday, when they had to witness Jesus’ death.
Actually, I don’t know what more to say at the moment. After talking there comes silence, and in the memory of death, any death, but especially as sacred as the death of the Son of God, comes reverence, bowing down before the mystery, and perhaps also silence before the sacredness of the memory. Silence and tears, for I somehow feel like crying as I remember.
© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 2nd April 2015)
Photo by © Iva Beranek