Fourteen years after the highlight of her life, Sister Carmen Acosta still has a clear memory etched in her mind of the event: meeting Pope John Paul II.
“Before I met him, I had heard about the good things he had done,” said Acosta, faith formation director at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, located near campus.
She said she was in a state of anticipation. This anticipation was set in motion when the founder of a religious group she was a member of, The Society Devoted to the Sacred Heart, announced they would go to Rome to meet with the pontiff, who was in his early 70s at the time.
“The whole community went on a pilgrimage to offer our fidelity to the church,” Acosta said.
Finally, the moment came.
The pope held a special Mass with the group, greeting each of them one by one, and eventually getting to Acosta.
“It was electrifying,” Acosta said.
She said she was hard-pressed to speak and stumbled out the words: “Holy Father, thank you for being a good shepherd.”
He patted her on the head, smiled and blessed her, Acosta said.
But the rendezvous was brief, and came to a quick end. Nevertheless, the encounter influenced Acosta.
“It strengthened my desire to be such a witness,” Acosta said.
The pope not only left her with strength, she said, but he gave her a tangible memento: a rosary, which she still keeps today. She also has the picture of her one-time meeting with the pope. Her office is also filled with mementos.
On her desk, several inches away from a red and gold Bible, lies a special Time magazine issue dedicated to the pope, a highlighted letter from the pontiff addressed to the elderly, and a cutout picture of him.
The 84-year-old pontiff died April 2, and his legacy hinges on a culmination of several accomplishments and events in his life.
A native of Wadowice, Poland, John Paul II, born May 18, 1920, as Karol J?zef Wojtyla, apparently did not have the top papal position on his mind during his youth. He enrolled in a drama school in 1938, showing interest in acting, according to the Vatican’s website. His life gradually changed paths in 1942 when he studied at a secret seminary during Nazi rule, although he was concurrently a founder of “Rhapsodic Theatre” in Krakow, Poland. He was ordained as a priest in 1946, and earned his first Ph.D. in theology in 1948.
The pope’s life could have ended before his rise to the top of the Catholic Church, when he was struck by a vehicle in February 1944, an accident from which he later recovered. In the mid-20th century, he served as a priest in Krakow. He taught ethics and morality at Lublin Catholic University, and became cardinal of Krakow in 1967.
He was elected pope in October 1978.
Throughout his life, John Paul II has met over 17-and-a-half million people.
Acosta said the pope, in several ways, has influenced her.
One influence, she said, “was to be open and real with every person I meet. (Second) would be not to waver from the moral conviction I share, and (third would be) forgiveness.”
Monsignor Peter Moran, head of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, also met the pope on two occasions — in 1992 and 2002.
He was on a three month sabbatical in Assisi, Italy, when a cleric gave him a 24-hour notice that he could meet the pope, Moran said. He said he began to rush, and caught a train later to meet the pope. But all the preparation, or the lack thereof, didn’t help Moran. He was “dumbfounded” in his presence, he said.
“I said to him, ‘God Bless you Holy Father,'” Moran said. “He said, ‘God bless you and your people.'”
“You sense you’re in the presence of a very special person,” Moran said. “You have a very special reverence.”
But Moran said he wasn’t sad to see the pope die.
“I said thank God (he died), because he had been suffering,” Moran said. “Thank God his suffering was over.”
Others said the pope had no impact or influence on their lives.
Monica Valenzuela, junior Chicana/o studies major, who used to be Catholic and saw the pope once in Los Angeles, said she felt sad about the pope’s death, because her mom, a devout Catholic, was emotional, and cried before and after his death. She, however, said she didn’t care much about the pope’s life and death, and felt he had condoned some corruption in the Church.
“I think he’s a regular person like anybody else,” Valenzuela said. “People treat him like he’s God.”
But he’s not, she said.
Another CSUN student expressed similar opinions about the pope’s death.
“Honestly, I figured he’s old, and (death) happens,” said Malorie Mummert, junior religious studies major, who is also Catholic.
Mummert said she, along with her Catholic family, was only saddened by not knowing who the next pope would be.
“I don’t think he had any (personal influence),” Mummert said.
Acosta said she respects and honors that the pope did not live selfishly, but gave his life to the “Kingdom of God.”
“Not one of us can say that until we’ve reached the end,” Acosta said.