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It was the kind of conversation that starts out casually enough, but somehow manages to turn into something quite significant. With what's going on in Rome with the Holy Father's resignation and the coming conclave, it's natural to find yourself in a discussion of all things papal -- especially when you work in a convent. So it was hardly surprising that Sister Marlyn, the other editor in the children's department, and I began talking about the papacy one day last week.
Like everyone else, we both felt a bit sad, and wondered about who our next pope would be. But when Sister Marlyn began to talk about attending Pope John Paul II's Mass on Boston Common, I became aware that something far deeper than a conversation between co-workers was going on.
It was obvious that the memory of that rainy October day touched her profoundly. With tears welling up in her eyes, Sister Marlyn recounted how her mother pulled her and her younger sister out of school in order to go. This, she told me, was uncharacteristic behavior on the part of her mom, who, as a teacher, found few reasons compelling enough to justify a day away from school. But the Pope's visit to Boston was compelling, after all, especially for a mother who couldn't imagine anything more wonderful than the opportunity to bring her two daughters to see the Holy Father.
Marlyn was less than ten years old at the time. She recalled arriving at the Common near the crack of dawn, and running past the police when the ropes were dropped to find a place. They sat near other children, and made a day of it with songs and prayers and great anticipation. While she was disappointed to discover that she would not be receiving Holy Communion from the Pope himself, what Marlyn experienced that day shaped her. From the way she shared it with me, I think it still does.
All I could do to keep from blurting out what I was thinking was to cover my mouth, and let Sister Marlyn tell her story. But as I listened to the sweet details of what that day held for her, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was at Boston Common that day, too.
On Oct. 1, 1979 Marlyn and I were very different people in very different places in life. She was a kid from East Boston, the daughter of Costa Rican immigrants who practiced their Catholic faith. I was a seventeen-year-old from the east side suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, an evangelical Protestant college freshman just curious enough about the new Polish pontiff to go down to the Common with a sign that read "Protestants for the Pope." John Paul II brought us together, though we didn't know it -- or each other -- at the time.
It amazes me that almost thirty-five years later, that Spanish speaking girl is a Daughter of St. Paul, I'm a Catholic, and we work together every day to bring the faith in Jesus we share to children and teens through books and media. Only God can write an ending like that, and there are still chapters left to be written!
It seems to me that the world is a different place without a pope in it. The empty chair of Peter leaves us all a bit emptier. I think that is because it's hard to be a flock without a shepherd. The Pope isn't just a symbol of the unity of believers; he actually establishes and protects the unity his office expresses. I can't wait for another man in white. And while no one but God knows who that will be, I do know that he will bring us together as one flock in the eucharistic presence of Christ.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.