In a recent interview with an Italian daily, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia discussed his memories of St. John Paul II, with whom he worked as a bishop from 1988 to 2005.
“I have vivid memories of my ad limina visits with John Paul II … especially the first one in 1988. John Paul was extraordinarily kind,” Archbishop Chaput told La Stampa in an interview published April 30.
“He joked gently with me and the other bishops of my region that I was much too young to be a bishop, although we both knew that I was actually five years older than he was when he was raised to the episcopacy.”
At the time, Archbishop Chaput was 43, and had just been made Bishop of Rapid City, S.D.; the Pope, in turn, had been consecrated as an auxiliary of the Krakow archdiocese in 1958 when he was 38 years old.
St. John Paul II was “keenly interested and engaged in talking about the life of the Church in the United States,” Archbishop Chaput said. “I had four ad limina visits with John Paul II, and each one was a privileged moment, not simply because he was pope, but because of the humanity and goodness he brought to his ministry.”
“No one who met him can ever forget him.”
John Paul II was canonized April 27, and Archbishop Chaput reflected that he had achieved so much during his pontificate “that we tend to forget the scope of his impact.”
Noting that while most remember his international travels, the archbishop recounted a litany of the saint’s other accomplishments: prolific writing; building relations with Jews, Orthodox, and Protestants; renewal of Catholic identity; support of new ecclesial movements; profound and wide-ranging teachings; and a commitment to the dignity of the human person.
In 1993, while still Bishop of Rapid City, Chaput attended Denver’s World Youth Day with St. John Paul II.
“I remember his astonishing dynamism and humor in Denver. The crowds were huge, but they didn't tire him. They did the opposite – they gave him energy, and young people seemed to make him younger by their presence. Young people knew, instinctively, that John Paul loved them, and they responded to him enthusiastically.”
Four years later, John Paul II appointed him Archbishop of Denver, where he served until 2011.
According to Archbishop Chaput, “What John Paul proved is that young people thrive on being loved and challenged in an encouraging way. Even as an old man struggling with illness, young people flocked to him. The young are hungry for a sense of meaning, a mission that they can accomplish with their lives.”
“John Paul II imprinted a spirit of hope on their hearts, which is why he was so effective at changing and ennobling young lives.”