Thank you, Pope John Paul II
By Mila Glodava
The closest I came to seeing the late Pope John Paul II was at a distance (in fact you could hardly see him) during his historic visit to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993 and again on the streets of my native land in Manila, Philippines, two years later. Nevertheless, it still was an awesome feeling!
The first time I saw him in Denver I started sobbing the moment the Holy Father entered the old Mile High Stadium. I was in awe that he would come to us. And everyone around me was just as awestruck and in tears, as the multitude that saw him during his audiences at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome did in his presence. From all accounts even presidents and royalties were affected the same way. Is it because he is the "Vicar of Christ"? Or is it simply because we were in the presence of a holy man? Indeed, Pope John Paul II was a holy man and I am proud to call him "Holy Father."
How has Pope John Paul II affected my life? Three Words: World Youth Day.
Had the Pope not chosen Denver in 1993 to be the site of his biennial World Youth Day (WYD), I probably would not have participated in WYD 1995 in Manila or anywhere else for that matter. I'm way past my youth! But as providence would have it, I was among thousands of volunteers for this phenomenal event in Denver -- working on the souvenir journal for the Pope's visit and as an interpreter. At the same time, my daughter was one of two representatives from the Philippines for the Pope's Mass at Cherry Creek (I did not realize the reason for this special participation until it was announced that the Philippines was the site for WYD 1995). It was, therefore, an easy decision for me to say "yes" when asked to help plan Denver's participation in WYD 1995 in Manila.
But what made this experience significant for me personally was how going home also brought me back to my roots. I rediscovered my heritage. Having left the Philippines in 1972, I thought my ties to the Philippines were forever severed, except for a few visits to my family. As a citizen of the United States, I am now enjoying freedom and the privileges that it entails. I also have become a contributing member of society, giving my time and energy to various causes in the community. I thought this was where I belonged.
The Holy Spirit has other plans, however, and used World Youth Day as a vehicle to reconnect me with my past. Since WYD 1993, I have found myself with a small community foundation reconnecting expatriates from my hometown to engage in "Diaspora philanthropy." I also have become a missionary to my old country promoting "stewardship as a way of life." Initially, all I wanted to do was help my home diocese hear the message of stewardship in their search for sustainability. The Holy Spirit must be at work here because the message of stewardship is now spreading across the country.
Last January 2005, I had an incredible and humbling experience speaking and giving a presentation (along with Father Andrew Kemberling, pastor of St. Thomas More Parish) to the entire Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines. The bishops themselves have realized that stewardship and evangelization go hand in hand and will help them in their journey towards making the Philippine Church become the "Church of the Poor" and making their hope for a "renewed integral evangelization" in the Philippines and beyond become a reality -- a response to Pope John Paul II's call for the Philippines to become a beacon of light for its sister countries in Asia and other parts of the world.
I am humbled to be part of this exciting time in the Philippine Church; and I thank God for Pope John Paul II and his World Youth Days.