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I am especially excited that John Paul II will be beatified this year, because of the many ways he directly touched my life.
In the spring of 1994, the pope discovered that International Planned Parenthood and its allies at the United Nations and in various countries intended to use the Cairo Conference on Population scheduled for September to have abortion declared a human right. The pope wrote a personally signed letter to the head of state of every nation entreating them to act. Only one even responded. Then on April 28 he fell and broke his hip. At that point he clearly understood that the only path open to him was supernatural. Thanking God for the pain he was experiencing as the result of unsuccessful hip surgery, he offered the "gift of suffering."
Of course, I knew nothing of this. However, at the end of June, although I had had no previous interest in attending the conference, I just knew that I was meant to go and in two weeks I had the money, tickets, credentials, and my husband's reluctant agreement for my attending the conference. When I arrived, I found that there were over 100 other pro-lifers from around the world who had similar stories. They had been going about their business and suddenly they knew they had to go to Cairo. I am now firmly convinced that we were the answer to the pope's prayer. We came with no sure idea of what we could do, but we were able to meet one another and work together and -- against all odds -- we prevailed. Abortion was not declared a human right. The pro-abortion forces were furious, but determined to renew the fight at the U.N. conference on Women in Beijing the next year.
This time the pro-lifers were better organized. In the summer before the conference, there was an organizational meeting in Rome and ten of the participants were allowed to attend the Holy Father's private morning Mass in his chapel in the Vatican.
It was an unforgettable experience. The chapel is small with a great black crucifix. When we came in, the Holy Father was deep in prayer. I remember at the moment after the consecration, when he lifted the host and as a single image I saw the black crucifix, the host, and the Holy Father, and I thought to myself this is the most perfect Mass I will ever attend. At that moment, something inside me said "Every Mass is this perfect if only you recognized it."
After the Mass we were allowed to greet the Holy Father personally. I gave him a paper I had written for the conference and he read the title. I was ecstatic.
Then the friend, who had arranged my invitation, rushed over the Holy Father and asked, "Please sign my copy of the Gospel of Life."
He looked at her, very serious, and said, "Have you read it?"
She answered "Yes, Holy Father, I have read it."
He said again, "Have you really read it?"
I have never forgotten that. He was pouring his life out, offering the gift of suffering -- which would only become more intense as the years passed -- and all he wanted was for us to read -- to really read -- what he was writing.
In our celebration of his beatification, let us all honor him by really reading the great legacy he had left us. The battles he fought so bravely go on, our victories, such as they are, are only temporary. We are better organized, more aware of the dangers, but the enemies of life, family, and marriage are ensconced in position of power. We need John Paul's words and wisdom, and intercession from heaven to continue to spread the splendor of truth and the gospel of life.
Dale O'Leary is an internationally recognized lecturer and author of "The Gender Agenda: Redefining Equality."