The Look in his Eyes

In John Paul II, Brendan found a close friend – in life and death. As did millions of people.
by Alfonso Aguilar, LC | Source:
I was in the midst of tens of thousands of people making a wide, long queue from the beginning of Via della Conciliazione that leads to St. Peter’s Basilica. We were taking a few steps at a time. The crowd kept mostly silent. Nobody pushed. No rush.

A few hours later, I walked into the basilica with thousands of people. Approaching the main altar, the queue was divided into two lines – everyone had to go right or left a few yards from the baldachin before turning back to exit the famous church. In three days, approximately two million people spent between 3 to18 hours to take that final curve within the basilica in 10 to 15 seconds. Why all the trouble? What did we want to see?

We saw the lifeless body of an 84-year-old man.

Inevitably, the question arose everywhere in the world: Why did people travel and go to so much trouble for this last glimpse of John Paul II?

The question still awaits an answer. After casting an eye at John Paul’s saintly, filial, Eucharistic and pastoral look, it is fitting to look at ourselves in the mirror of our thoughts. What did we see in him?

A Friend

The Kelly family didn’t know that John Paul was praying for their little son Brendan. The boy was born with Down syndrome and later diagnosed with terminal leukemia. In January 2001, neighbors of the Kelly’s met the Holy Father in Rome and showed him the photo of Brendan to ask him for his prayers. Instead of blessing the picture, the Pope asked if he could keep it.

Some time later, the Kelly’s attended a private Mass with the Holy Father, and then waited in a receiving line to shake hands with him.

As soon as John Paul entered the room, Brendan broke away and ran to him. “I was struck by the fact that Brendan immediately connected with him,” Brendan’s mother Maura comments. “It’s very unusual for Brendan to run up to someone that he has never met before.”

The Pope seemed delighted to see the four-year-old boy he was praying for. “There was an unbelievable love in the Holy Father’s eyes,” said Frank, Brendan’s father. In between greeting people John Paul would glance down at Brendan and wink or wave.

At the end the Holy Father blessed the room and left. But as he walked through the door, Brendan broke away and ran far enough so that he could see him. He waved his hand and said, “Bye, Pope.”

“No one expected the Pope to come back into the room, but he did,” said Frank. “He came into the room to shake Brendan’s hand and say goodbye.”

A year later, Brendan was cancer free. He was 8 when he heard about the Pope’s death while on vacation with his family in Jamaica. He wasn’t sad. “I talked to the Pope,” Brendan said that day to his father. “What did he say?” Frank asked skeptically. “He said, ‘I love Jamaica,’” Brendan replied. “He also said, ‘Brendan, have fun.’”

Frank was shocked. “Brendan doesn’t refer to himself in third person,” he said, “so that sent chills down my spine.”

Today Brendan attends a public school in Great Falls, Virginia, and says a prayer for the Pope every morning, asking him to help him get through school.

“The teacher gives Brendan a colored crayon to indicate how his day has gone,” explained Frank. “The crayons are red for a day that could be improved, yellow and green for a good day. Ever since he’s been praying, he’s been getting a green crayon. He said that’s because the Pope is helping him.”

In John Paul II, Brendan found a close friend – in life and death. As did millions of people.

(Legionary Father Alfonso Aguilar was present in Rome for these historic events in April, 2005.)

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