For those of you who remember and loved Pope John Paul II, the words "Santo Subito!" are as much a part of your psyche as "JP II, we love you!". Both phrases come from very different points of his life. The latter I first heard when I attending World Youth Day in Rome in the year 2000. Hundreds of thousands of English speaking pilgrims shouted out our love for our friend, Pope John Paul II. Yes, he was our Pope. The only Pope in my life time at that point.
What was it about him that we loved, that I loved? I can give a million reasons, all of them good. I read his books, and could feel the hope and love that he infused into every moment of his life wash over me. I saw how human he was. When I was old enough to care about who the Pope was, he was an old man, falling apart before my eyes. He was dying every day on the world stage, but somehow managed to effortlessly hold on to his dignity. He showed all of us that dignity doesn't come from human esteem, but from the God who created each of us and continues to give us life each day. I loved him for who he was in history. For the bravery of his faith during the second world war, his faith in the face of a darkness so deep it swallowed up the lives of countless people, including some of his dearest friends. He came out of that evil time with great conviction, compassion and most of all love. He took the character his experiences built up in himself and used it on the world stage to stand up to evil, and stood up to communism in his beloved Poland. When he was elected Pope, he became a symbol of hope for his polish countrymen and women who were struggling again under the weight of oppression at the hand of communism. These are good reasons. But they only scratch the surface of why I loved him.
When I look at videos of John Paul II on YouTube, I feel it right away. I love this man like a member of my own family. Like a friend I've know my whole life. And why is that? Because I can feel when I see him that he loved me too. As a young girl I was lucky enough to go to World Youth Day twice before he passed away. World Youth Day is a youth festival instituted by the Pope to bring young Catholics together to encourage each other, grow in faith, and sit at the foot of Peter to hear in a way that made sense to us the Gospel of Christ. We came together, many of us there just there for a trip, and left on fire with love for Christ. So how does this man in his 80s connect to my youthful experience of faith? By far, the most exciting part of WYD, in both Rome and Toronto, was hearing the Pope speak. He loved young people, and understood how to talk to us. He didn't baby us, or dumb down the message of Christ. He challenged us, he told us we were called, he reminded us that God loved us. He said that he loved us and felt young when he was with us. This was no pandering of an ancient Church desperately grasping at the young in hopes of staying just viable enough to make it through another decade. This was a man who loved God so much, that he wanted to share his faith with us so we could find the joy he had. He knew that with that faith and joy, we could go back into the world and stay strong while being inundated with messages of immorality, consumerism, and death. He could see the challenges our generation faced, and prayed for us and loved us in it all. If you caught eyes with him as he drove by you, you felt like he was looking into your soul. People I know that actually got to meet him and chat with him each tell stories of how he would take great interest in details of their lives, and would share with them kindness and humour. He wasn't an unapproachable man in love with his own title. He was your friend, your confidant, and your greatest supporter. For me, he was an image of how I imagine Jesus was when he walked on the earth two millenia ago. He was what every true Vicar of Christ should be, someone who will love you unconditionally, tell you "Be not afraid", and then show you how to come closer to God.
So when he passed away, young people from around the world who had been drawn to him joined together with an aching cry of loss. Our friend was no longer here. But we also know that our beloved friend was with God, surely welcomed him with open arms into the Kingdom he has shared with so much passion. We took our tears and turned them into joyful shouts of "Santo Subito!", "A Saint Soon!" (sounds better in Italian). We wanted to Church to recognise formally what we already knew, that in our lifetime we had known a Saint. Already our beloved Pope is Blessed, so now we're waiting patiently for the requirements to be fulfilled so that the whole Church will join us in rejoicing in God's grace as witness in the life of a mere human who became a earthly image of Christ.
So my prayers rise up with the cry of my soul of "JP II, we love you!" and my voice shouts out "Santo Subito!" in gratitude for the man who became my friend without even knowing my name. His witness of holiness left a stamp on my heart that inspires me every day to be who God is calling me some day, so that I can open my heart up enough to make my very life an act of praise.