Nurse Remembers John Paul II's Last Day

Says He Took on the Cross of Everyone Who Suffers

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By Mariaelena Finessi

ROME, MAY 1, 2011 ( “They called me in the late morning. I hurried because I was afraid that I would not arrive in time. Instead he was waiting for me. ‘Good morning, Holiness, it’s sunny today,’ I said to him immediately because it was what he liked to hear when he was in the hospital.”

This is how Rita Megliorin, former head nurse of the recovery ward at Rome’s Gemelli Polyclinic, remembers the morning of April 2 when she was called to the papal apartment, to the sickbed of John Paul II, as he was dying.

Megliorin made her remarks Friday to reporters at Rome’s University of the Holy Cross.

“I didn’t think that he would recognize me. He looked at me. It wasn’t that inquiring look that he used to have when he wanted to know immediately how his health was. It was a sweet gaze, which touched me,” she recounted. “I felt the need to put my head on his hand, I allowed myself the luxury of receiving his last caress, laying his powerless hand on my face while he fixed his eyes upon the picture of the suffering Christ that hung on the wall in front of his bed.”

Hearing the increasing volume of the singing, prayers, and acclamations of the young people in St. Peter’s Square the nurse asked the Pope’s secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, if the noise didn’t bother the Pope. “But he, taking me to the window, said: ‘Rita, those are the children who have come to greet the father.’”


Megliorin first met the Pope at Gemelli in January 2005. Coming to work one day, and not thinking about the Pope being there, she said that she was told to make haste to the 10th floor because there was “an important patient.” 

“Think,” she said, “of a place where there is no space and where there is no time, and think only of a lot of light.” This is what it was like being with John Paul II.

“During those months, every morning I came into the room to find him already awake because he had already been praying since 3. I would open the blinds and say ‘Good morning, Holiness, it’s sunny today.’ He would turn to me and bless me. I would kneel and he would touch my face.” This was the ritual that started the Holy Father’s days. “Beyond that I was an inflexible nurse and he was an inflexible patient. He wanted to be updated on everything, the sickness, its gravity. If he didn’t understand, he would give me a look that suggested a request for a better explanation.”

“He never ceased to study man’s problems. I remember the books on genetics, for example, that he consulted and studied attentively, even in the condition that he was in.” “Every day,” she explained, “he told us [that] ‘every problem has a solution.’”

“And like every father he had a love for the weakest. For example, at WYD in Rome at Tor Vergata, he greeted the kids who were in the back, thinking that they weren’t able to see much. In the hospital, too, he occupied himself with unimportant people and not with the great professors, he asked about their families, if they had children at home.”

“The Pope endured what were perhaps the most difficult moments at the Polyclinic,” she observed, but added that “helping the sick is a gift, at least for those who believe in God. But it is a singular experience for non-believers too.”

Better today

Asked whether any particular film about the life of Wojtyla corresponded to what really went on in his dying moments, she responded with the question of whether anyone in the room had held a dying parent in their arms. “I can’t answer,” she said reluctantly. “Whoever hasn’t experienced it can’t understand.”

Another reporter asked whether death was a relief. “Death is never a relief,” she replied. “As a nurse, I can only say that there is a limit to care beyond which it becomes heroic.”

John Paul II, “in the last moment of his life,” Megliorin concluded, “took up his cross, taking on not just his own [cross] but that of all those who suffer. He did it with the joy that is born of the hope of believing in a better tomorrow. In fact, I think that for him it was already the hope in a better today.”

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