ROME, APRIL 17, 2005 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Adam Maida was very much moved by the crowds in the days leading up to the funeral of John Paul II.
The archbishop of Detroit, Michigan, spoke about his impressions last week, before the cardinals decided to halt their interviews with the media.
Q. What was your impression of Rome at this time?
Cardinal Maida: It’s like any big human event — there’s something electric about it. Something very, very special and no matter how good the media is, there is no way you could replicate the experience of being here, seeing it and being a part of it.
I was just reflecting on the continuous flow of people and thinking about the amazing differences between the pilgrims — it is almost all of humanity! Different colors, different cultures, young and old — I saw people in wheelchairs and it was all just unbelievable to witness that kind of an experience before your eyes.
Another thing that really struck me was, even though I have been to St. Peter’s hundreds of times on my own in my life, it has never been more quiet, in spite of all the people. Very quiet and somber with all the prayers being said. I’ll have to say, it was a heavenly experience — a moving event for me.
I’ve seen huge crowds before … but nothing like this.
Q: You have been very involved in the John Paul II Center in Washington, which includes a museum of the Pope’s life. What would you say is the biggest impact this Pope made on the world?
Cardinal Maida: Well, it’s very difficult to categorize our Holy Father and his legacy.
As far as the John Paul II Center in Washington, D.C., I think that’s a place where that legacy will unfold. It’s a place where people will continue to come and to remember and also to tell the stories and that legacy will evolve in history.
When I reflect on what our Holy Father has accomplished in his life, when I’ve seen the world press and the insights that so many people have had, I’m just amazed that they’ve watched him so closely, listened so carefully and are now able to articulate a little of the impact that the Holy Father’s had in their lives, in the life of their cultures and countries etc. It’s really a very inspiring thing.
One thing that really strikes me is the holiness of the man and that holiness is closeness to God and gives almost everything else a credibility and integrity.
I feel that when you see someone so genuine, so holy and so good, you melt in front of it and like for the people who saw Moses when he came down the mountain in Sinai, all they had to see was the light radiating from his face.
I really think the Holy Father had that closeness with God. He was a true mystic and his legacy, I pray, will be the depth of his theological life which is articulated in so many ways and reflected on so many issues of our day and our culture and various cultures throughout the world.
Somehow, Pope John Paul was able to capture that universal aspect of God’s encompassing love for all people as part of his mission and work in the Church.
When I knelt there in prayer, I was thanking God for this experience and for this time — nothing was choreographed or scripted, but just my human heart in that moment — and it was like God was somehow present there.
Looking at our Holy Father, I had dinner with him early January, and I know how he struggled to eat and to speak and even to sing and now he seemed so much at peace and, it wasn’t an artificial peace — I mean, sometimes we can do strange things with makeup and technology.
But I when I was looking at him, I personally felt that he was a man who has lived his live, has served God and God’s people, and to see this reaction now from everyone just affirms his mission and the way he carried it out for a lifetime — even to the end.
I was reflecting, too, on how he engaged the people. Young, old, healthy and sick … explaining how to suffer and accept these trials and to take that human experience which so many of us dread and [he] was able to embrace it and do it with dignity. I remained a very moving time.
Q: As an American cardinal, what do you think of Bush’s decision to head up the U.S. delegation for the funeral?
Cardinal Maida: I’m not surprised by this at all. I believe they’ve had their differences, especially on the matter of war where the Holy Father asserted a very personal interest in trying to get another policy with respect to Iraq. However, there’s a certain “heart” for one another as they saw certain values in one another that they could connect with.
I believe that President Bush has had that kind of a natural reaction to this. I’ve felt that affinity with the president on a number of occasions too.
Q: What are you feeling as you enter into this time … of the conclave?
Cardinal Maida: I was a consultor to the Code of Canon Law and before that I’d been back and forth since 1972, coming to Rome about five times a year for a while, and this helped me work with a lot of different people and with now cardinals who were priests here at the time.
And ultimately, your priest friends are working together and we get called to higher office, so I would say I know at least half very well, but there are others I just don’t and that’s why it’s important for us to be here.
None of us know each other that well and so this will all evolve and there’ll be a learning curve here with respect to those I don’t know and we’ll be talking to those that I do … but I’ve not talked to anybody, a single cardinal about who would be a worthy successor yet — I’ve not had that type of conversation. It’s yet to come.
We have to leave everything up to the Holy Spirit.