John Paul’s beatification was in the works almost immediately after his death on April 2, 2005, at 84, with crowds shouting “Santo subito,” or “Saint immediately,” at his funeral.
The miracle needed to beatify him was confirmed by Vatican investigators in January. They concluded that posthumous prayers to John Paul had cured a French nun of Parkinson’s disease.
A source of inspiration
John Paul has been a beacon for Jennifer Kilmer’s entire life. She prayed for him every day as a child, serenaded him as a teen when he visited the United States and now issues pleas to him for financial help.
“We changed it from ‘John Paul II, we love you,’ to ‘John Paul II, we need you,’ ” said Kilmer, 45, who lives in Rockville.
She also looks to John Paul for support in her biggest challenge: raising 11 children, all under 12. Sometimes her large family is an object of scorn, she said. “I constantly go back to when he said, ‘Be not afraid,’ ” she said, quoting a line of John Paul’s soon after he became pope. “I feel this is what God’s called me to do.” Her eighth child, 5, is named for John Paul.
Vince Spadoni, a 41-year-old Catholic school administrator, has felt a connection to the late pope ever since he was a child growing up in an Italian parish in Upstate New York.
“We were proud to be Catholic, and he was a big part of that” — a leader who embraced the supernatural at a time when skepticism and materialism were watering down spirituality, he said.
Spadoni has had his students at St. Elizabeth School in Rockville praying every day for the beatification. The minute the Vatican confirmed that John Paul would be beatified, he went on the public-address system at St. Elizabeth, where he is principal.
“I said, ‘Boys and girls, our prayers have been answered!’ ” he recalled. “All the kids were cheering and shouting.”
But not every Catholic is celebrating. For Peter Isely, a Milwaukee psychotherapist, the beatification is a difficult event. Abused as a boy by a priest at a Catholic boarding school, Isely said, he was part of a group of more than 30 survivors who in the early 1990s sent John Paul a packet of letters and videos that explained their abuse by priests “in painful, excruciating detail.”
The men felt sure John Paul didn’t know, and Isely recalled their desperation for his response. The Vatican’s U.S. representative confirmed that “it would go where it needs to go,” he said. That was the last the men heard.
John Paul traveled the world to speak out for the most vulnerable but never met with clergy abuse victims or truly embraced their cause.
“We didn’t need him to be a saint,” said Isely, who remains a Catholic. “We needed something a lot more ordinary” — a basic sense of duty to protect children.
Venerated by priests
Even as the U.S. church was being rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct and coverup, priests always felt understood by the pope. He emphasized the church’s view that celibacy is a gift from God and that priests are representatives of Christ.
The Rev. Paul deLadurantaye, director of liturgy for the Diocese of Arlington, was one of 67 men ordained in 1988 by John Paul in Rome, where deLadurantaye was studying moral theology. He remembers feeling the power of centuries of clerical lineage when the pope put his hands on the young priest’s head.
“I got to look into his eyes and saw a man involved with God,” deLadurantaye said.
“For someone in their 20s still discerning, ‘Is God really calling me to this?,’ it was comforting, reassuring to see that sense of clarity, that love for the priesthood,” he said.
On Sunday, Aybar, the Bethesda home health aide, will be praying for John Paul. And for the confirmation of a second miracle. Maybe it could be her, she said.
The lupus medication has left her eyes painfully sensitive to light. So she is appealing to him again, hoping for more healing.
“I say, ‘John Paul, you have to finish!’ ” she said with a smile. “He is a holy man.”