Another Pope Who is Easy to Love

By Br. Michael Gaitley, MIC

I belong to the JPII generation. I count myself among those young Catholics who, before the election of Pope Benedict XVI, could only remember one pope, John Paul II. For so many JPII generation Catholics, Pope John Paul was more than the "Supreme Pontiff" living far away in Rome; he was our spiritual father and a friend who spoke to us personally. We knew he believed in us enough to challenge us, while at the same time encouraging and inspiring us. His death especially left the JPII generation feeling desolate and, in a sense, spiritual orphaned.

When Pope Benedict was elected, I was still mourning the death of my "Polish Papa." Of course, I accepted Benedict XVI as the new Pope. Of course, I believed him to be the successor of St. Peter who holds the authority to teach and guide the Church. And, of course, I gave him the loving reverence due to Christ's Vicar on earth. Still, Pope Benedict didn't automatically have my heart in the same way that Pope John Paul II had it. But I wasn't purposefully withholding it from him. I just didn't know Pope Benedict as I had known his predecessor. I missed John Paul, and one can't force the heart to love so deeply.

Over the last several days, during his first apostolic visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI won my heart just as Pope John Paul II had won it before him. I can't explain exactly what caused this change, but it happened. Was it the gentleness and compassion that came through his words? Was it the humility of his bearing and the directness of his speech? Or was it the depth and clarity of his message? Whatever it was, something happened as I closely followed the papal events on television and even, a few times, in person. I fell in love not just with the office but with the man, not just with what he represents but who he is, not just with a successor of Peter but one who is truly Christ's friend and a spiritual father.

According to a recent poll, a significant percentage of American Catholics don't feel like they really know Pope Benedict. I'm praying that during the days of his visit not only the JPII generation but all people will discover in the Pope what I have recently encountered in him more deeply, namely, someone who, like his predecessor, is a convincing, compassionate, and courageous witness to Christ, our hope.

I thank God for giving the Church yet another great Pope whom we can so easily love with all our hearts.

Brother Michael Gaitley, MIC, is a seminarian living in Washington, D.C.

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