by Father Mitchel Zimmerman
I wish I could have taken thousands of young men from our archdiocese to see the pope in Washington, D.C., and in New York City.
I am writing this article just as the Holy Father arrives at Edwards Air Force Base, and immediately I am reminded of the impact seeing the Holy Father had on my own vocation. In 1993, when a vibrant John Paul II came to Denver for World Youth Day, I was on stage with him because the St. Lawrence Choir from KU, of which I was a member, was selected to be part of the papal choir for the final Mass.
John Paul II came over very close to greet us, and I’ll never forget the sea of people that gathered at Cherry Creek State Park. As an avid sports fan, I have been a part of many large gatherings of people. None of them, not even the parade for the Jayhawk national championship down Massachusetts Avenue in Lawrence last Sunday, holds a candle to what it is like to be at a papal Mass. There is enthusiasm, singing, great pageantry, and just an enormous number of people.
Thanks to Msgr. Vince Krische, who nominated me to represent the youth and bishops of the United States at World Youth Day in Paris in 1997, I was able to greet John Paul II personally and to meet my hero.
By this time in my discernment of the priesthood, I had read many of the documents of our late Holy Father and been inspired by his intellect, his devotion, and his fascinating life. I was able to be on stage with Pope John Paul II for the final Mass in Paris, and there were even more people than in Denver.
As far as I could see from my elevated position on stage, there were people. And in looking at an aerial shot the next day, I realized there were tens of thousands more that I couldn’t even see from the stage.
By 1999, I was in the seminary. I saw the impact the decision to follow Christ as John Paul II did could have on the world, and I heard Jesus’ voice asking me to follow him.
After these experiences with the Holy Father, I had the reassurance that no life I could choose for myself could be as great as the life to which Christ was calling me.
Now as a priest and as vocations director, I look forward to being with Pope Benedict XVI, whom I greatly admire as I did John Paul II, at St. Joseph Seminary’s in Yonkers, N.Y., and at Yankee Stadium, where I will have the privilege for the first time as a priest of distributing the Eucharist at a papal Mass.
While I will not have a chance to greet the Holy Father personally — and, admittedly, I am a little jealous that Jenna Bush got to greet him and I didn’t — I know my vocation will be strengthened by the privilege of being with the Holy Father.
I wish I could take every young man in our archdiocese to Yankee Stadium with me, but since I can’t, I rely instead on your prayers that the visit of the Holy Father to our great country will give all the young men in our archdiocese a glimpse of the difference they could make should they answer Christ’s invitation to follow him in his holy priesthood!