Last week, I willingly gave up a night of sleep to watch a European event happen on live television. And no, it was not the Royal Wedding. Instead, very early on Sunday morning, I saw Pope Benedict XVI beatify his predecessor, the now Blessed Pope John Paul II. It was a beautiful and moving ceremony. St. Peter's Square and the surrounding streets of Rome were filled with people there to rejoice with the Church and witness this step of the formal declaration of John Paul II's holiness. Many of those people had probably seen John Paul sometime while he was alive, too. I myself once saw the back of his head as he drove down the street in his Popemobile during a 1999 visit to St. Louis.
As a member of the "JP II generation," he was the only Pope I knew growing up. I am only now beginning to realize the impact he had on the Church, and the whole world through his preaching, his writings, his leadership and his example. He proclaimed a Springtime of New Evangelization in the Church and especially inspired young people to live lives of radical holiness. He embodied the joy of Christian life, but taught us also that this joy does not come without suffering.
George Weigel titled his biography of Pope John Paul II "Witness to Hope," and he was exactly that at every moment of his life. He continues to be even after death. He called us to holiness, and is now being held up by the Church as a model of that very holiness and as an intercessor in Heaven. He shows us that sainthood is possible; that saints are real people! More than ever, he is speaking the same words to us as he did at the beginning of his pontificate, "Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!"
Blessed John Paul II, pray for us.