Archdiocesan faithful drawn to Vatican City for John Paul II beatification

May 24, 2011

HOUSTON — For an entire generation of faithful all over the globe, Pope John Paul II was their Holy Father, a welcoming figure who beamed with great spirituality.

"Pope John Paul II has always been part of my life growing up and I have looked to him for inspiration," said Cecilia Estrada, a parishioner at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. "He had so much to teach us and he was so good at it … He spoke the truth and challenged us. When I would see photos of his travels, I felt drawn to know more and more about what he had to say and to know more about him." 

More than one million congregated in and around the Vatican to share in the familial celebration of the May 1 beatification Mass in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI.

Estrada was among the numerous pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston participating in the gathering.

"He brought the universality of the Church to the full consciousness of the world in a way no other pope did through the gifts and life experience," Estrada said. "He was one in Christ. It was his humility that I believe was one of his greatest gifts."

John E. Cruickshank Jr., a 63-year-old parishioner from Sacred Heart Church in Richmond, trekked through the thousands to reach St. Peter's Square for the beatification. "It was joy … singing in every language, clapping," he said. "I met several Polish pilgrims and we exchanged gifts."
Cruickshank visited a museum dedicated to John Paul II which included a film room featuring a film about the assassination attempt. 

"The booming two gunshots sent shockwaves through my body at least three times," Cruickshank said.

Cimela Kidonakis, a 24-year-old member of St. Michael Church in Houston, saw Pope John Paul II in 1999 during his visit to St. Louis.

"I was 12 years old and filled with great memories of my grandmother leading hours of prayer and songs to a bus filled with eager pilgrims," she said.

Kidonakis went to the beatification in Rome with her grandparents and mother.

"Being surrounded by so many pilgrims cheering, it gave me chills," she said. "They flooded the streets at all hours — it was a party all the time and we were all excited to be there for [John Paul II]. He spread so much love through his lifetime and inspired so many, including me."

Kidonakis said Blessed John Paul II had "a joyful soul. He inspired the youth to be passionate about their faith and gave them courage to be a light to the world. ‘True freedom is born from Holiness.' We all find wisdom in his words and feel a certain joy in our hearts when we think of him. I love him because he didn't complicate things; he pointed us directly to the great love of Christ. He helped us see life as such a beautiful gift from God, highlighted the dignity of the human person and gave us so much hope."

Dr. Fernando A. Isart and his wife, Celina, members of St. Cecilia Church, were also in Rome for the beatification.

"In a magical way I found myself as part of history," Dr. Isart said. "An atmosphere of hope and gratitude evolved our spirits as we witnessed the beatification ceremony of a human that was a witness of hope with his compassionate living and outreach to the world. With all the world turmoil, we were witnesses of hope by [seeing] a multitude of young people touched by him and looking for spiritual enrichment."

And that legacy will only continue, noted Estrada, who was asked by the Postulator for Cause of Canonization of Pope John Paul II to read one of the prayer intentions during the beatification Mass; hers was taken from his encyclical "Faith and Reason."

"Not many may have realized this but [the prayer intentions] were all based on encyclicals of Pope John Paul II," Estrada said. "The amazing part for me is even six years after his death, he is still evangelizing us." †