Letter from Father Sullivan
16 May 2010
“Proclaim a joyful sound and let it be heard; proclaim to the ends of the earth: The Lord has freed his people, alleluia!” Isaiah 48:20
As far as I was concerned, John Paul II was the only pope I hade ever known. I was just beginning my senior year in high school when Pope Paul VI died, succeeded by Pope John Paul I who reigned for a little over a month, followed by John Paul II. For it was only in high school that I began to pay any real attention to the importance of the Catholic faith in my life
I watched on television and followed in the newspaper, together with all the world, as the second conclave in as many months was convening to elect a new Successor to Peter, the Prince of the Apostles and Vicar of Christ on earth.
On Monday afternoon, October 16, 1978, my last period of the school day was free, so I raced home to watch live coverage from Rome after hearing there was white smoke billowing from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. Listening all the way on the car radio, I arrived just in time to see Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, come out upon the grand balcony overlooking Saint Peter’s Square for the first time as the new Pope John Paul II. I was immediately impressed as I learned this young man—one year younger than I am now—a non-Italian, from a Communist country had been chosen by the Cardinals to lead the Church.
For almost twenty-seven years Pope John Paul II was an important player on the world stage, bringing the message of the Gospel to more people personally than any other preacher in the history of Christianity. His teaching, as expressed in Papal Encyclicals, Papal Audience talks, Apostolic Exhortations, homilies, promulgation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, canonical rulings and other legislative actions put into place the authentic interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and set the Church on the path toward the Third Christian Millennium. And of course, his personal interventions in freeing Poland and Eastern Europe from the clutches of the Soviet Union and his role in bringing down Communism has yet to be fully revealed.
After my parents, Pope John Paul II has been the most influential person in my life, and most certainly in discerning a vocation to the priesthood. But above all his teaching, and the power of his personality, and esteem he was held in by so many— it was the way he prayed that has influenced me most. The way he celebrated Mass. The way he encountered Jesus present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. His filial love and depth of devotion for the Mother of God. All profound influences in my life as a Christian and ministry as a priest.
I first met him, up close and personal, at the conclusion of a Wednesday General Audience in November 1994. On the occasion of Father Jerry Stluka’s Silver Jubilee of Ordination to the Priesthood I had arranged for the two of us to be presented to the Holy Father at the conclusion of the weekly audience. When introduced to His Holiness, Father Stluka told the Pope how we had just come to Rome from the Holy Land and everyone we encountered, knowing we would see the Pope in Rome, asked us to tell him the people in the land of Jesus wanted him to come visit them, to which John Paul replied, “I will go. I will go.”
When it came my moment with the Holy Father, overcome with emotion, I could barely utter any words, but Father Stluka, standing at Pope John Paul’s right elbow asked, “When are you going to make Father Sullivan a Monsignor?” To which the Holy Father replied, patting his right hand on my left shoulder, “He is a very young priest.”
Monday, May 18th is the centennial of Karol Wojtyla’s birth. I will commemorate him in the Mass Monday morning and throughout the week his meditations on the mysteries of the rosary will guide our prayer each evening.
Join me and celebrate the life, ministry, inspiration and holiness of Saint John Paul the Great this week.
From my heart to yours, in the hearts of Jesus and Mary—
Peace and blessing,