On Papal Visits
On Papal Visits
Australians haven’t had an opportunity to attend a Papal Mass for some years now, when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was here seven years ago for World Youth Day. My eldest son was able to go, and I had planned to fly from Tasmania to Melbourne with my then teenage daughter, but God had other plans. I fell pregnant with my twins, my eleventh and twelfth children, and thus, although disappointed, the domestic church came first.
The previous papal visit was by Pope St. John Paul II, who came to Australia in 1986. Again, I had the opportunity to see him, as I was living in Brisbane. I was also pregnant during this papal visit, and this would have posed no obstacle, since there was no travel involved. This was my first pregnancy with my little girl, conceived out of wedlock, exposed in the womb to LSD, but safe from abortion due to the abortion-procedure literature I’d read as a child. (Whole story here.)
But I had absolutely no desire to see a pope or to attend one of his Masses. I didn’t even read about him or watch his progress on tv - it was possibly only because I worked in a tv station that I knew of his visit at all. What possible interest could someone like me - lapsed Catholic, lost, rebellious - have in a papal visit?
At the time, I knew nothing about Pope St. John Paul, about his experience with Nazism and communism, about Evangelium Vitae, Love and Responsibility, or anything else he’d written. To me, he was just another cleric-for-the-believers, who was representing God-for-the-believers. People like me were out of the picture, as far as God was concerned. Then a friend from work, named Mark, arranged to take a day off to see the Pope; I was curious and asked him about it.
He was so genuinely happy about seeing the Pope - he even had a special little wine bottle to take and drink there to celebrate. I couldn’t understand it: how could anyone be so happy about something religious? Especially a huge Papal Mass where there was no chance to actually meet the Pope or get close to him.
I kept bumping into Mark, and each time we’d have something to say about the Pope’s visit. And gradually, very gradually, an idea starting to form in my mind. At last I brought it up with Mark.
“I want to have my baby baptised, ” I told him.
He said, “That’s a very great responsibility,’ and I kind of turned off after that. I thought he’d say “Great! How wonderful!’ or “You’re really awesome!”, but deep down I knew what he meant. It would never be enough to make the token gesture of bringing my baby into the Church, without making any commitment myself. Simply have her baptised would be fairly meaningless, (although not completely meaningless, of course), unless I was prepared to return to the Church and begin to live out the faith of my own baptism.
And so I did; not straight away, but after I left work and my Brisbane life and moved back home to have my baby, I began to practise my faith again. It was to be a very long and painful process; years before I made my general confession, many years more until I began to really trust God.
But my conversion began with a papal visit. I didn’t meet the Pope, I didn’t see him or attend a Mass. But I know he was praying for people like me.
And that is why I’ll never express disappointment with anything our Popes say or do. We don’t know their hearts and what miracles God is performing through his sons.
Law came in, to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.