Blessed John Paul touched lives of local Catholics

By Joan Kurkowski-Gillen

Correspondent

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Pope John Paul II waves after arriving at Miami International Airport at the start of his 1987 trip to the United States. He made seven visits to the U.S., including two stopovers in Alaska, during his pontificate. (CNS photo / Joe Rimkus Jr.)

Ask people what Pope John Paul II meant to them and you’ll receive a wellspring of thoughtful responses.

“A man who gently and lovingly challenged the world.”
“The most important saint of my lifetime.”
“Divine Mercy”
“The reason I believe in superheroes.”
“The pope of hope.”

For Margie Gomez, the man born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland was a saint long before plans for his canonization on April 27, 2014 were announced,insists the St. Andrew parishioner who stood inches from Pope John Paul II when he visited San Antonio in 1987.

Gomez traveled from Fort Worth to see the pontiff with her late husband, Ted, who was being treated for a brain tumor that took his sight. When they arrived, organizers told her Ted had been selected to receive a blessing from the Holy Father. As John Paul II circled the crowd in his popemobile, the couple waited near the altar with 25 other people with disabilities.

“Before he went to the altar, the Holy Father came to the handicapped area. I was so excited, I couldn’t say anything, so I just snapped pictures as he blessed my husband,” Gomez remembers.

Ted Gomez experienced a miracle that day.

“Not a physical one. There can be all kinds of miracles,” she says. “My husband was touched by him and he felt blessed. We talked about that day for the rest of his life.”

Elected to the papacy on Oct. 16, 1978, John Paul II was the longest serving pope in the 20th century. He was also the most traveled. Before his death on April 2, 2005, the pontiff had visited more than 100 countries.

“He was very visible. By traveling all over the world, he was able to bring the message of Christ and the Church to so many people of different ethnic backgrounds,” says Patrick Foley, who served as a Eucharistic minister at the open air Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in San Antonio on Sept. 13, 1987. “They all responded to him lovingly.”

A noted author and historian, the Azle resident was asked by Texas organizers of the papal trip to write an official essay about the Catholic Church in Texas for the Holy Father. John Paul II later used some of the material in his homily.

Curators at the John Paul II Shrine in Washington, D.C., requested a copy of Foley’s essay, and it’s now part of the museum’s collection of papers.

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Pope John Paul II leans against his crosier during Mass in New York's Central Park in 1995. He had a habit of leaning on the staff in prayer or contemplation. (CNS photo / Michael Okoniewski)

“Not only was John Paul II deeply spiritual, he was an intellectual,” Foley points out. “His dedication to some of the great people in the Church like St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John of the Cross, shows that.

“When he decided to study for the priesthood, Poland was occupied by the Nazis, and he had to study in secret with a few other men,” says the retired history professor.

“Then he had to deal with the Communists. Even as pope, he battled growing secularism in places like our country and France. In my opinion, he was a great hero of the Church.”

Dr. Thomas Jodziewicz recalls his exuberance when 58-year-old Cardinal Wojtyla became the first non-Italian pope in more than 400 years.

“We share the same heritage,” says the University of Dallas history professor. “My father was alive at the time, and the pride in having a Pole as the pope was extraordinary.”

Jodziewicz calls John Paul II a wonderful example of truth and charity.

“We live in a world where any sense of eternal truth or truth itself is disappearing, so we were very fortunate to have him as pope when we did,” he explains. “His witness helped give the rest of us courage to stand for Christ.”

The educator visited Rome several times, but the closest he came to seeing Pope John Paul II in person was from a distance at a Corpus Christi benediction. His late father, Zygmunt Jodziewicz, had better luck. Visiting Rome with a tour group, the elder Jodziewicz and his wife met the pontiff during a general audience. A video camera captured the moment for the rest of the family.

“My father stopped and started talking with the pope in Polish. For those few moments, they looked like old buddies,” his son explains. “It’s a wonderful memory.”

JPII-Miami-1987-BUTTON.jpgFor Margie Gomez, the man born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland was a saint long before plans for his canonization on April 27, 2014 were announced,insists the St. Andrew parishioner who stood inches from Pope John Paul II when he visited San Antonio in 1987.

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