I have been lucky that such brilliant and holy men have occupied the Chair of Peter in my lifetime.
Pius XII (1939-58) –
I was born in 1949 during the Papacy of Pius the XII. Of course, since I was born in Cuba I knew him as el Papa Pio Doce. So in my early, not too thorough, instructions as a baptized Roman Catholic, he was the leader of the Church. I was nine at the time of his death and the election of the next Pope.
Blessed John XXIII (1958-63)
I remember hearing about the election of Juan XXIII, and mostly hearing (tasteless) jokes about the name. Immediate worldwide communication was still in our future. This is a time when I was becoming more aware of the political unrest around me. It also marked the awakening of my faith. In 1959 after the triumph of Fidel Castro’s revolution, my life was to change completely and in 1962 my parents sent us off to the United States to escape communism. Shortly after, my father died in Cuba. In September of that year our mother joined us in Colgate, Wisconsin.
John XIII was Pope at the beginning of Vatican II which he opened with the following remark:
The Church should never depart from the sacred treasure of truth inherited from the Fathers. But at the same time she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and the new forms of life introduced into the modern world.
In 1963 he died. At that time a Spanish teacher from one of the local high schools was giving my mother English lessons. My mother, the eternal hairdresser, was giving her teacher a haircut. Knowing that the teacher was Catholic and wanting to engage in conversation to show off her English, she made a comment about the Pope’s death. Her teacher turned to her and said: “Yes, I like my hair short.” Certainly something was lost in translation.
Our next Pope was elected
Paul VI (1963-78)
This was the Pope of my high school years and while I attended a Catholic school and they certainly tried to teach us about Vatican II, I am ashamed to say that I was paying no attention. After high school and as a young adult, I remember a lot of changes and confusion. I think people took some of the changes and ran with them and in a way chaos ensued and the message seemed to be, as long as you think it’s right, it’s not a sin. Of course, we were totally wrong and Vatican II was grossly misinterpreted. It took me years to begin to understand it and to admire what was being accomplished. I wish I had paid more attention in school. For the next few years my beliefs were extremely immature. In 1978 Paul VI died and a new Pope was elected.
John Paul I (1978)
For the first time I was more interested in the process of the election of the Pope and watched on TV the sweet, smiling face of the new Pope who took the combined name of his two predecessors in order to continue the labor they had begun. Unfortunately he died just a month after and a new Pope was elected.
Blessed John Paul II (1978-2005)
I watched the process of the election of a Polish Pope who also chose the name of John Paul to keep the legacy of his predecessors. Little did we know at that time what a great and holy man was to occupy the Chair of Peter. This amazing man would reach out to all corners of the Earth to tend to his sheep. Many changes transpired in my life during this time. My faith was extremely lukewarm for many years. I did not even appreciate the fact that he visited the U.S. and missed the opportunity of attending a Papal Mass. As unhappiness filled my heart, anger for a God that could not possibly love me stained my soul. After years of searching in all the wrong places to ease my pain, through prayers of those who loved me I made my way back to receive the love of our merciful God who was patiently waiting for me. Then I came to appreciate Pope John Paul II. It was with great sadness that I watched his funeral on TV and saw how the wind closed the open Bible that was placed on his humble coffin. Our next Pope was elected.
Benedict XVI (2005-2013)
During the Papacy of this German Pope many past scandals in the Church came to light. I believe he handled them with great compassion and dignity. His resignation came as a surprise to many and has been widely criticized. I believe he reached this decision prayerfully and understood that he no longer has the ability to lead his flock. Had he not resigned, many of those criticizing him for his resignation would criticize him for not realizing that he was too old and infirm to lead the Church in the difficult times ahead. I am 63 years old and have to think twice before getting up in the morning. Aches and pains abound and my mind certainly is not as sharp as it used to be. My thoughts and prayers are with him and with our newly elected Pope.
The election of Pope Francis has certainly surprised the world – the first Pope from Latin America and the first Jesuit Pope. It has been said in the past that a Jesuit would never be Pope. In matters of the Holy Spirit, the guide of our Church, never say never. I particularly love the name he has chosen. St. Francis of Assisi is very special to me. I admire his love for the poor and have always sought his intercession in the care of our many pets. God bless Pope Francis – May his Papacy bring us unity and peace. Habemus Papam!!