Christopher Stefanick tells a story about a great saint of our time. Pope John Paul II boldly taught that each unique person is the way of the Church. And helping each person embrace his own vocation must be for her a fundamental priority.
The following story is about a series of encounters between Bishop Robert Brom and John Paul II.
“Brom’s first meeting with the Pope occurred in 1963 during the second session of the Second Vatican Council. Brom was a seminarian at the North American College. Pope John Paul was the auxiliary bishop of Krakow. Brom and several classmates were leaving the Church of the Gesu after a visit there when some Polish seminarians with Bishop Wojtyla were entering. At that time Brom and his classmates briefly met the man who would thereafter become the Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow and the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years. Subsequently, Brom forgot all about the exchange.
In 1983 after his appointment as Bishop of Duluth, Bishop Brom in the context of his first Ad Limina Visit met Pope John Paul for what he thought was the first time. However, John Paul, looking into Brom’s face said, “I think we have met before.” Brom assured the Holy Father that they’d never met. “I believe we have,” insisted the Pope, but Brom was equally sure they had not. After all, a meeting with the Pope isn’t easily forgotten!
Some days later, during the same Ad Limina Visit, the secretary to the Holy Father, then, Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz, now Cardinal, approached Bishop Brom to say, “Don’t argue with the Pope, he remembers when he met you.” “When?” Brom asked. “In November of 1963 outside the Church of the Gesu in Rome.” Brom’s memory refreshed, he asked Monsignor Dziwisz, “How can he do that?” to which Dziwisz explained that for John Paul to meet another person is to encounter God.”
There are two key points we can draw from this story.
Lessons from Pope John Paul II
First, the Holy Father’s radical sensitivity to the unique human person. The only way John Paul II could have remembered Bishop Brom and the thousands of others he encountered is through close and loving attentiveness to each person.
Second, John Paul II did not encounter God in an abstract way when he first looked upon the face of Bishop Brom. He recognized (as so many of his other writings also testify) that Bishop Brom and every person manifest in a unique way the face of God on this earth.
According to Pope John Paul II, each person is “the primary and fundamental way of the church” (Redemptor Hominis, 14). He later said in that same document that “every initiative serves true renewal in the Church…”. This happens “insofar as the initiative is based on adequate awareness of the individual Christian’s vocation.” (Redemptor Hominis, 21)