I was lucky enough to go to Rome on our parish pilgrimage during 2002. It was beyond fabulous, easily one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. There were hundreds of moments worth retelling, but I won't tell them here.
There is one moment, though, that burns brightly in memory, especially tonight.
Our days were full of busy-ness, but after a communal supper, we were free to do as we wished. Very often this meant that several of us "girls" would head over to a sidewalk cafe across St. Peter's Square for a quick cup of cappucino for those who were coffee addicts, and a glass of "Coca-Cola Light" (with please, please, please more than one ice cube in it!) for me. We would sit and sip and talk and laugh. When the cafe closed, we would head back to the convent for the night.
Walking across the dark St. Peter's Square, we stopped dead in our tracks. To think. We were standing there, us hicks from Texas, looking up at the lighted windows of the Pope's apartment! He was really there! We had seen him in the Wednesday papal audience, of course, but somehow that light burning in an apartment window made it so, so, I don't know, personal, I guess.
With tears in our eyes, the four of us stood on the cobblestones, holding hands. Then we did the true Texas thing. We stood there in the dark and hollered: WE LOVE YOU, PAPA!
We're not foolish enough to think he heard us. But we felt better for having said it.
Lots of people have lots of things to say about the pope. Some people are already talking about whether or not he will be John Paul the Great. Some have reservations. I'm not smart enough, or good enough, to know whether he is or isn't. I didn't expect perfection, which is impossible anyway. What I wanted was someone to show this convert how to be a Catholic. And how to be a bold and unafraid one. JPII did that for me.
And I'm glad I had a chance to tell him that I loved him, even if he never heard it.