This post is part of Jen's 7 posts in 7 days challenge:
As you may or may not know, I wholeheartedly love and admire John Paul II and he is my personal hero for many, many reasons. I can't wait until his canonization in April because then I will be able to officially call him my PATRON SAINT! I swear, JPII follows me wherever I go in my life! And that is why he is such an important part of my faith and my life. It all started when I first spotted him, just passing by in his pope mobile, during his pilgrimage to Poland in 1995. I was just 5 years old and I didn't understand much of our faith at the time, obviously, but I knew this man had a tremendous importance and holiness to him. It was only a passing glance, but I remember it so vividly.
Then, especially in my teenage year, Pope John Paul II had been such great inspiration for me - mostly through reading his classic works, namely Love and Responsibility and teachings based on his Theology of the Body. I have a whole collection of JPII books, but more on that later. Reading John Paul II was revolutionary to me. It completely changed my perspective on sexuality. I do not think I would be here, writing this blog about marriage, chastity (pre and post marital), NFP, and openness to life if I had not encountered this teaching.
Last year too, while we were on vacation in Colorado, we just randomly and unexpectedly stumbled upon John Paul II! (Not physically of course....I did not witness a miracle, as much as I would like to think that..hehe). More proof that he follows me everywhere. Maybe I don't admire him in vain, perhaps he also likes me and watches over me.
Here's the story:
It was a nice, sunny, August day in Colorado. This was right in the middle of our planned family & friends roadtrip. Our roadtrip consisted of driving across all of Colorado (all the way to Grand Junction, which is on the border of Utah). So we were able to hit the most beautiful mountains, waterfalls, and lakes in Colorado as well as some famous canyons on the border of Colorado/Utah. In fact, here is the link to my original google map of our roadtrip that I created then, in case you are interested in such a roadtrip (I think I'm a pretty good roadtrip planner.. Always find the best sights to see and best deals on good hotels!)
We were on our way to a hiking-and-adventure-filled day at Rocky Mountain National Park.
Here we are, driving to Estes Park, where one of the entrances of RMNP is located, and enjoying the beautiful weather as well as the sights of hills, rocks, and mountains. Then, all of a sudden, we see a beautiful little church, made of beautiful stones, on top of a magnificent hill, or rather, a rock. Then we see a huge, white statue of Jesus. Without thinking, at the last minute, my husband (then-fiance) took a sharp left turn and we found ourselves at the foot of this huge rock, on top of which stood Jesus, glancing down at us. Quickly I looked to see whether I can identify what this place is (Is it even Catholic?) and took a mental sigh of relief when I read the sign: St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church (aka Chapel on the Rock). Right as I began walking around and admiring this beautiful place and as I stared in awe at the face of Jesus, way up high on the rock, I knew that God had brought us there for a reason.
The church looked pretty old but it was soooo beautiful. Of course we took a lot of pictures because you do not encounter a church like that on a daily basis. I had no idea such beautiful little historic Catholic churches existed in the US, since US is a baby compared to Europe, for instance, where you can find plenty of historic chapels and magnificent cathedrals that are centuries old.
And then we went inside.
It was a simple, small, but oh so beautiful little church. It had that old smell that historic places often have (if you have ever experienced that) and the wood in the pews/kneelers creaked as soon as you sat/kneeled. It all brought back memories of being a little kid back in Poland and going on pilgrimages or just weekend trips with my parents to visit old, historic, antique, or famous churches that were super duper old and had that same "antique" smell and creaky wood everywhere...and the smell of incense of course!
A little bit more exploring and here comes the real surprise!!!
Right as we were exiting, we noticed some pictures on the wall. And I couldn't believe my eyes!
John Paul II, my favorite man!!!
|A picture of a picture on the St Catherine of Siena church wall|
Turns out John Paul II stopped by this church during his pilgrimage to the United States in 1993. I have such a tremendous connection with John Paul II and this just confirmed that God brought ME here because He knew that my heart would just leap for joy!!! And oh the joy and gratitude I felt for being there, for stumbling upon this place, for standing on the same terrace of the same church that John Paul II stood on, 19 years earlier.
I knew that even though the discovery of this neat little Catholic place was unplanned, totally unexpected, and fully spontaneous for us, it was not so for God. Both my husband and I, when talking about this many times later (and we still sometimes do), agreed that it was not an accident that made us stumble upon this place...it was Him.
|Picture of a quote by John Paul II in commemoration of his visit to Saint Catherine of Siena Church in 1993|
To make our experience even more pleasant and unique (I WAS IN HEAVEN WITH ONE FOOT ALREADY), we stumbled upon the church keeper (or whatever you call them...Sacristan?). He was an older guy and said that he has been living there and taking care of this church for like 30 years. He said there is no permanent priest there, but one from Denver comes to do weddings etc. Apparently they do a lot of weddings, since it is such a picturesque place. I don't know how we started talking about John Paul II, I probably brought it up after he asked us where we are from... I informed him that we live in the suburbs of Chicago but we are from Poland and that I see that John Paul II was here, and he is also from Poland. And the guy proceeded to tell us how great of a pope and person John Paul II was (again, I was in heaven...having a one-on-one conversation, probably for the first time ever, with someone who truly cared about our Church and truly loved the pope...Seriously: except you bloggers, I don't have very many REAL, tangible people in my life who would be interested in having deep and insightful conversations about God or the faith).
BUT WAIT... this story gets better.
The church keeper told us that John Paul II liked to hike right in the back of the church. He pointed out a trail with his finger and asked us if we see it. We nodded and said that we do. He said that trail is named after JPII because he would walk it and pray there every morning when he was there. And then he pointed to some buildings, probably about 1/3 mile behind the church, almost at the foot of the mountains. He said that was a convent / retreat center (St. Malo Retreat Center), but it largely burnt down. There was a fire there just 2 years ago. He had told us that the building where JPII stayed during his visit was completely engulfed by flames. The whole building had fire damage and water damage: EXCEPT the room where John Paul II stayed. It was a real miracle, he said. Not even a spot of damage on any wall of the room where Pope John Paul II slept. Do you hear me? Not a spot!
I was standing there in awe and amazement and disbelief at what I was hearing...and so was my husband! We were all amazed. I didn't even mean to come to this place and now I am finding out these great unique facts about my hero and patron JPII and even hearing about a miracle that happened right there, a short distance from where I was standing! Turns out I meant to go on a hiking trip that day, but really, God sent me on a pilgrimage!
That was cool, God. More adventures like this please.
And dear Blessed John Paul II: keep showing your presence in my life, you know I get a kick out of you showing up at random times and at random places in my life. You're amazing. So happy about you being canonized soon!
Hope you enjoyed the story. Let me know what you think!
God Bless, Agnes
P.S. I wonder if that miracle was reported towards his cause for Sainthood. Either way, he performed enough miracles to be canonized so soon after his death.