JP II Death

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter J. Daly

April 13, 2005 


            Like most priests, I have a personal memory of John Paul II. Mine involves the Pope and my mother. I learned to value them both more.

When I returned to Rome as a graduated student in 1990, I was given the privilege of concelebrating the daily mass with him in his private chapel.

Every day the Pope offered mass in a different language, to accommodate the many visitors to Rome. Tuesdays he generally celebrated mass in English.

There were always so many English speaking visitors in Rome; it was pretty difficult to gain admission, even if you had a year to wait. He took only about 100 visitors per day.

My request for tickets kept getting turned down, until my mother came to visit.

The Pope had a soft spot in his heart for the mothers of priests.

He lost his own mother, Emilia, when he was nine years old. He missed her always.

So the rector of the graduate student house where I was living suggested, “Tell the ceremonies office that your mother is visiting. You will get a ticket.”

Immediately I got two tickets to the next Tuesday English mass.

We got very little sleep the night before. My mother agonized over what to wear. She opted for a black suit but it needed work. She stayed up late ironing and repairing it.

We got up about 3 AM. By 4 AM we were making our way through the dark and deserted streets of Rome. It was pouring rain. Even though we found a cab, we were soaking wet when we got to the Vatican.

At the entrance to the Apostolic Palace, we passed through security. Then we made our way up the long staircase to the papal apartments.

Just outside the Pope’s private chapel my mother and I were separated. I changed into my alb and stole for the mass. The priests were seated in the front rows with the laity just behind. Somehow I wound up in the front row, on the very end. To my right through a doorway, I remember a semi-darkened Eucharistic chapel. I had seen it in photographs. There was a chair and a kneeler before the Blessed Sacrament. I did not see anyone at first.

As we sat there waiting for the Pope, I became aware of a groaning sound to my right, coming from the Eucharistic chapel. I looked more carefully and saw the Pope was lying prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament. He was praying in a kind of groan.

I remembered the line from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs and groans unutterable.”

After a minute or so, he got up, vested and joined us in the main chapel.

I wondered what heavy weight he was carrying. Later that day, we read in the paper that mass graves of priests and nuns killed during the Stalin era had been found in Ukraine. I don’t know if that was the cause of his groaning, but I suddenly realized what a heavy burden he carried everyday for the church.

I also became aware for the first time that he was a mystic. He was lost in mystical prayer.

I’m sorry to say that mass was a blur. I just remember being self-conscious about my wet clothes.

After mass we all lined up just outside the papal chapel. The Pope greeted each one of us and gave us each a rosary.

When he came to us, we were introduced by his assistant, “Fr. Peter Daly and his mother Edith.” He glanced at me, but took my mother’s hand. Then he looked at me and raised his index finger. “Your mother,” he said to me.

It was a little admonition to cherish her. He knew what it was like to miss your mother.

Then he was gone.

I bought a photo of the three of us from the official photographer’s office. My mother looked at it and said, “There you are with the most important person in the Church and the most important person in your life.”

I’m sure the Pope would have agreed on that pecking order.