John Paul II: My First Pope Crush

Here he is.

"Karol Wojtyla-splyw" by Unknown [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Yes. That's my beloved JP2. It's OK, you can love him too.

When I first saw him "in person" (via a jumbo-tron at the 1993 Denver World Youth Day), he cried out, "JP2! He loves you!" At the time, I was fairly certain he used "you" in the singular, directing his comment at me individually. Upon further reflection, I admit his "you" might have been plural. After all, roughly 750,000 people were packed alongside me for the closing Mass at Cherry Creek State Park (according to Catholic News Agency).

On April 2, the world marked the tenth anniversary of his death. Pope Francis encouraged us to keep up our conversation with the Polish pope, asking him to "intercede for us, for families, for the church so that the light of the Resurrection shines through all of the darkness in our life and fills us with joy and peace.” It makes sense to continue to talk to Pope John Paul II--to pray--just like we did while he was still living among us. Sunday's brilliant celebration of Easter reminds us that Jesus has conquered death. Death is no stumbling block for us; when our friends pass away, we know they live in Jesus Christ.

So, yes, Pope Francis, I will continue to pray with John Paul II, the pope I grew up with, the pope whose writings opened my mind and heart, the pope I had a crush on. (Can you blame me? Look at that smile!)

Speaking of Pope-crush, how about that Francis? Sure, he frustrates some folks by saying just about whatever pops into his head. But he's leading us into deeper and deeper personal encounters with Jesus and with each other.

Stephen_Medlock for Flickr Creative Commons 

While I'm making my way through a list of modern popes I'm passionate about, let me mention Pope Paul VI. My family and I recently watched the Italian TV movie Paul VI: The Pope in the Tempest. Oh. My. Goodness. What a man! I certainly knew about Paul VI before (I love his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae), but I never really imagined what his life was like, especially during the second Vatican Council.

The movie is long, so we watched it in installments over vacation. Every family member enjoyed it, for lots of different reasons. I relished the moments when we paused the movie to explain the historical or religious context relevant to particular scenes. (I'm pretty sure our ten-year-old did not enjoy that as much as I did.)

The tenth anniversary of John Paul II's death brings back so many memories. My parents named my youngest brother after him and wrote the Pope a letter to let him know. They received a gracious reply, noting the Pope's promise to pray for our little John Paul. My parents framed the letter on its Vatican stationery and slipped a little photo of JPII into the frame. I looked at that letter and photo every single day of my young life and marveled that the Pope was praying for my brother, my whole family.

That's what popes do, though. They pray for us. They pray with us. They ask us for our prayers. I'm grateful that each pope entrusts his personal intentions to the Apostleship of Prayer so we can know what's close to his heart.

(c) sedmak/Getty Images
The Easter scriptures remind us of the first pope, Peter, such an unlikely leader in many ways. He is the disciple who nearly drowned in doubt, who cut off a man's ear, who denied the Lord three times.

This very man Jesus chose to lead the infant Church. Jesus commands Peter, "Tend my sheep" (John 21:16). After everything the disciples endured during Jesus' Passion, Peter finally and permanently confesses Christ:

“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Here Peter articulates the full and complete message of Jesus Christ: love. I may joke about a Pope-crush, but that's just a clumsy way of trying to describe the love that fills my heart when I reflect on Jesus and the Church he gave to us. The Church is not perfect, because she is comprised of men and women who are not perfect. But we are the Body of Christ on earth.

During the Easter season, we always read the Acts of the Apostles. I am fascinated by these scriptures which describe how the first Christians found their way, led by the Holy Spirit. Peter, their bold leader, plays a critical role. Let's enjoy these Easter days by reading the accounts of the early Church and asking the Lord to fill us with his love and Easter joy.