May 6, 2011

‘Still leading people to Christ’: Archdiocesan Catholics pay tribute to late pontiff following beatification

By Sean Gallagher

Among the more than 1 million people who gathered on May 1 in Rome for the historic beatification of Pope John Paul II were Catholics from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Anthony and Anita Campo, members of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis, and their daughter, Gabrielle, arrived in Rome the day before the beatification.

Seminarian Martin Rodriguez is living at the Pontifical North American College in Rome and receiving his ongoing priestly formation.

And Msgr. Joseph Schaedel, vicar for religious and director of the archdiocesan Mission Office and Society for the Propagation of the Faith, has been on sabbatical in the city for three months.

They shared their experiences of being present for the beatification and their appreciation of Blessed John Paul II with The Criterion in e-mails sent hours after the liturgy.

Gabrielle Campo is the director of Catholic Charities Indianapolis’ Refugee Resettlement Program. At age 30, she was born three years after Pope John Paul was elected.

As a teenager, she attended World Youth Day in 1997 in Paris. The crowds camping out the night before the May 1 beatification in the Via della Conciliazione—the broad street that leads into St. Peter’s Square—reminded her of that seminal event in her life of faith.

“There was the same diversity of people,” she said. “Each group of people had flags [to show] their country’s love for John Paul II. Those from Poland were proud of their Karol Wojtyła. … People were sleeping on thin mats.”

“They had sleeping bags, backpacks, banners—and the Holy Spirit,” her mother, Anita, said.

Gabrielle and Anita, who visited the street that night, chose not to remain with those pilgrims, but returned to the hotel where they were staying.

At 5 a.m. the next morning, Rodriguez made his way from the North American College, which is on a hill overlooking St. Peter’s Square. He walked to within a matter of feet from the Via della Conciliazione before being stopped by barricades erected by Rome’s police.

The crowd there was jammed shoulder to shoulder. Yet, Rodriguez found no one getting frustrated or angry with each other.

“People were friends with everyone,” he said. “People were smiling, singing, praying the rosary and chanting cheers. It was a vibrant atmosphere that showed the Catholic Church as a living body united by the love [that] John Paul II showed toward Christ and his Church.”

Rodriguez stayed in the crowd for about four hours before walking more than a mile to the Circus Maximus, the ruins of a chariot racetrack dating back to ancient Rome, to watch the beatification on a big-screen TV.

The Campos tried to enter St. Peter’s Square for the beatification. As they crossed a bridge over the Tiber River, they encountered an enormous crowd that made Gabrielle nervous about getting separated from her parents.

They eventually went down a side street, getting within about 100 feet from the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square before they could go no further because of police barricades.

Unlike Rodriguez, they chose to stay there and listen to the liturgy on loudspeakers in the square.

Msgr. Schaedel had a ticket reserved for a special section for priests at the front of the square.

He was able to see an image of Blessed John Paul II unveiled early on during the Mass after Pope Benedict XVI formally declared him among the blessed in heaven.

“I can assure you, there was not a dry eye in the house,” Msgr. Schaedel said. “It was magnificent to see the portrait unveiled. I love the portrait they chose—a younger John Paul II with a smile on his face. It was one of the highlights of the ceremony.”

Even though they could not watch that dramatic moment in the beatification Mass, the Campos shared in it as they heard the sustained cheers of the congregation inside and outside the square.

“The entire 1.5 million people in the crowd were rejoicing,” Gabrielle said. “The universal Church, in all her languages, was celebrating in unity. This was a profound moment.”

Close to the Campos were a couple from Holland and a woman from Argentina. On their way to the liturgy, they passed a group from the Congo in native garb singing as they walked.

At the Circus Maximus, Rodriguez was surrounded by pilgrims from Poland, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Panama, Argentina and Spain.

“To be part of such a large crowd made me think of the words of St. Paul that we all form the body of Christ,” he said. “We were from all over the world, speaking all kinds of languages, but were as one single body.”

During the liturgy, Msgr. Schaedel, who sat with priests from around the world, heard readings and the general intercessions proclaimed in a variety of languages.

The rest of the prayers, he said, were prayed in Latin.

“This was a great equalizer,” Msgr. Schaedel said. “Everyone was united in faith when we sang and prayed together in Latin and knew the gestures.

“To see a community of faith streaming down the streets and side streets made me realize that our faith is very much alive and well throughout the world.”

For the Campos, Rodriguez and Msgr. Schaedel, being present in Rome during the beatification was a way of paying tribute to a pope who played a significant role in their lives of faith.

Gabrielle had directed a production of one of John Paul II’s plays while a student at Saint Mary’s College in northern Indiana. And she said that his Theology of the Body “spoke to many of my thoughts as a young Catholic woman. He truly saw women as God’s masterpieces.”

Currently, in her ministry with refugees from around the world, Gabrielle has seen the influence of the late pontiff far beyond the Catholic community.

“I hear witness from those from other religions about how Pope John Paul II worked for peace,” she said. “As a global leader, he created bridges between religions, in particular, the Muslim and Jewish worlds.”

Attending the beatification moved Gabrielle to want to grow in holiness.

“This day will stay with me for years to come,” she said. “Like Mary, John Paul II’s life, death and road to sainthood point me to Christ.”

Her father, Anthony, expressed similar sentiments.

“I realized John Paul II is still leading people to Christ,” he said. “And he will now for eternity.”

Witnessing the beatification—even if only on a big-screen TV a mile away from St. Peter’s Square—reminded Rodriguez, who was born eight years after Blessed John Paul’s election as pope, that “saints are not a thing of the past, but a reality here and now.”

“He showed with his life that we are all called to be saints, and there is a way to do it,” Rodriguez said. “He wanted to show to the world that Christ was a real person and not an abstract idea, and he went to every corner of the world to make sure people knew that. For me, he wanted to show that to be a saint is the same as being in love with God and his Church, and for this he is a good model to every Christian.”

Msgr. Schaedel was a first-semester seminarian at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad when Blessed John Paul was elected.

“Never did I think then that this ‘new Polish pope’ would have such an influence on my life,” Msgr. Schaedel said. “I could not help but think [at the beatification] how this brave man—who had so much suffering in his own life—did so much for the Church.”

As Msgr. Schaedel prepares to return to ministry in the archdiocese, he foresees Blessed John Paul’s influence continuing to affect his own priestly life and ministry.

“I pray and hope that this wonderful experience will cause me to be an even greater instrument of evangelization when I return home,” he said. “It also reminded me of the childlike trust we should all have in our Lady, as John Paul II did.” †

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