Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Saying Goodbye to John Paul II: ‘I Miss You, Poppa!’

Published April 14, 2005

I never thought I would e-mail Pope John Paul II, but when he was desperately ill, I could not resist.

I realized there was little chance he would read the note, but I sent it anyway because I wanted to make some gesture, however small, to let him know how sorry I was that he was suffering.

I called him “Poppa” in the note, because over the years, that is how I had come to think of him.

The note read: “I love you! You are a dear father to all of us around the world, even ex-atheists like me! Thank you for showing us hope in suffering, mercy in grief and faith in adversity….”

As I sat composing the note, I realized someone was looking over my shoulder. Someone who often visits me unannounced and, frankly, can be quite a nuisance at times.

She had long hair and was dressed in a miniskirt, and had a big smirk on her face—and I knew her immediately: She was me in the days of my youth.

“I can’t believe you would care anything for the pope,” she said. “He is so old-fashioned, and he is an emblem of a church that needs to get with the program.”

I sighed. In my younger days, it was indeed true that the notion of loving a pope would have seemed a complete aberration.

Raised with a proper respect for the traditions of the church, I headed off to college where, after just a few philosophy courses, I concluded that I knew more than the pope himself.

Years later, Pope John Paul II seemed like a distant figure who had nothing to do with my life. Still, when I heard about him being nearly assassinated by a gunman’s bullets in 1981 but then later forgiving the man, I will say I was impressed.

When I decided to come back to Catholicism, I had rather mixed emotions about the pope. In short, he seemed terribly out of date for a modern-day woman like myself.

And so I found myself telling listeners that, although I was Catholic, I certainly didn’t hold with the pope’s rather old-fashioned teachings on life.

I can’t say for sure at what point my feelings about John Paul II started changing. Maybe it was the day I actually read “The Gospel of Life” and other encyclicals he had written, instead of basing my opinions on the news media.

Or maybe it was the day I realized there was something the media rarely mentioned about John Paul II. Something that helped me, as a woman, feel closer to him.

Which was his intense devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I discovered he had a favorite expression, “Totus tuus ego sum,” which means, “I am completely yours” and expressed his love for Mary.

I also learned from his writings that, in his youth, when he was a factory worker, he wondered if he should distance himself from Marian devotions, so he might focus more on Christ.

He concluded, however, that devotion to the Mother of God is Christ-centered, after reading a book by St. Louis de Montfort that became a favorite of his.

I bought a copy of this little book, “True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin,” and found some soul-stirring truths.

“Mary is the means our Lord chose to come to us, and she is also the means we should choose to go to him … ” de Montfort wrote.

The Blessed Mother brought John Paul II closer to Christ, but there was another reason why he so dearly loved her.

After the assassination attempt that critically injured him, some people found it rather mysterious that the gunman, shooting at close range, failed to kill John Paul II.

One explanation offered in “The Pope in Winter” is that a nun saw the gunman raising the pistol and tugged at his jacket, disturbing his aim, but another says that, at the moment of the first shot, the pope leaned down to hug a little girl.

Who just happened to be wearing a medal of Our Lady of Fatima.

When Pope John Paul II realized that the attempt on his life had occurred on May 13, the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima, at the very hour Mary had appeared to the three children, he credited her with saving his life, and became even more devoted to her.

As the pope grew older, I found myself in the rather surprising position of defending him against people who mistook his physical ailments for mental ones.

Often, when I would read the word “frail” with reference to John Paul II, I worried that folks were making a common mistake, which was confusing physical disability with mental.

The more I read his encyclicals, the more I saw that he was, despite his ailments, an intellectual giant, and a true spiritual father to the world.

Before long, I came to love the man I thought of as “Poppa.” I knew I could count on him to come out consistently in favor of life.

When the war broke out in Iraq, I knew Poppa would say it was not just. When stem-cell research made the news, I knew he would expound on the dangers.

Whether it was Terri Schiavo in a hospice, a tiny embryo in a laboratory or a prisoner on death row, I could count on Poppa to defend the teachings of the one who had said, “I have come so that they may have life.”

I saw that people—like my younger self—who thought the pope needed to “get with the program” didn’t always realize the “program” meant sacrificing the weak, the elderly and the helpless.

And gradually, I saw that, by sticking to tradition and defending life, he was following Christ.

After all, if Jesus showed up today, wouldn’t the secular world bash him as old-fashioned? And didn’t he say, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you”?

Toward the end, the pope became a beacon for all the suffering, elderly and handicapped people of the world. He became a sign of St. Paul’s words: “I am content with weakness … for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

In his last days, he showed us a model for dying. Like Mary, he did not struggle with the Lord’s will for him, but instead, in his own way, said, “Let it be.”

It is little wonder that millions, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, are mourning the pope’s death.

He changed our hearts. By showing us the unfailing light of Christ in a world grown dark. And by defending the weak and the helpless against the strong and powerful.

I am sure there is great rejoicing in heaven, although Earth is weeping. And I know I am not alone in saying: “We miss you, Poppa! And we love you!”

“And may you always be ‘totus tuus’ with Mary and Jesus.”


Lorraine Murray’s latest book, “How Shall We Celebrate?” (Resurrection Press) is now available at You may e-mail her at