‘He loved everybody’

April 7 – 13
VOL 124 NO. 13
‘He loved everybody’
By Deacon Tom Picciano/ SUN contributing writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Binghamton — “When he sees you, and you are with him, he looks at you and he blocks out anybody else but you. And you are very special to him.”.

Father John Mikalajunas remembered Pope John Paul II on Sunday afternoon in the rectory of St. John the Evangelist Parish. In all, he’d met the Holy Father five times. Father Mikalajunas concelebrated Mass in the pontiff’s private chapel three times, in 1997, 1998 and 2000..

“I said the part of the Eucharistic Prayer, I prayed for the pope and I forgot to mention his name as bishop. I was so nervous standing next to the pope. There are some bishops that don’t even have that privilege that I had on Jan. 20 of 1997. It was great,” he said. “God has blessed me so much as a priest.”.

Father Mikalajunas first met Pope John Paul II in 1992 on an orientation trip to Rome with other priests. His words, spoken in Polish caught the pope’s attention. .

“He was going that day to Africa. I said, ‘Most Holy Father I wish you a very wide road to Africa today.’ So he grabs me. He had my hand in one and he grabs the other one and he says ‘Where are you from?’ because the cassock [he was wearing] was the ‘V’ collar for Poland. I was speaking to him in contemporary Polish and I’m supposed to be from the United States. So I said to him ‘I’m from Binghamton, N.Y. in the Diocese of Syracuse.’”.

The pope asked him to give a greeting to a seminary classmate who served in the diocese, then added a personal blessing. “He said ‘Bless you and your parish and all your people,’” Father Mikalajunas said. .

“He loved everybody. It didn’t matter whether you were wealthy or poor. And you could see this in people that would come up to him one after another,” he said..

“In those 26 years and five months and 17 days, how many people throughout the world he greeted one on one, zeroed in on them and made them feel he only cared about them.”.

Father Mikalajunas noted that the pope died after the Vigil Masses on Saturday in Rome, making it Divine Mercy Sunday. “The feast day that he instituted in April of 2001. It was called for by Christ himself to Saint Faustina whom he canonized in April of 2000,” he said..

Pope John Paul II’s influence is evident at St. John’s rectory. There is an apostolic blessing framed in the office. In a sitting room, there is a metal sculpted image hanging on the wall. A photo on the table shows Father Mikalajunas with the pope, complete with papal seal and the “Joannes Paulus II” signature..

Father Mikalajunas’ spent 15 minutes in the papal chapel prior to each Mass he concelebrated there. It was time enough for a rare insight into the Holy Father. .

“He was in prayer. I must honestly say never in my life did I ever feel the presence of God more than I did those three mornings,” he said. “I truly felt God in such a special way present there more than anything else.” .

“I think he was most compassionate and understanding. I don’t think he really ever beat on anyone. He had the way of being a grandfather, I think, and father. To be gentle and know that if you did something wrong you should change.” .

Father Mikalajunas reflected on Pope John Paul II’s tenure, observing that he came along at the right time to take a stand for freedom of worship in communist countries..

Father Mikalajunas remarked that the pope attempted to stick with the schedule in his final days..

“Wednesday he comes to the window; Thursday morning he celebrates Mass, does work in his office, gets sick later in the afternoon; Friday he concelebrates Mass from his bed; and Saturday he had his bed fixed to look out at St. Peter’s. And he said ‘Tell the young people I came to you before and now I’m thankful that you came to me.’”.

Hundreds of thousands of people will attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II this week. Somewhere in the crowd will be Father Mikalajunas. He doesn’t expect to get close to the front..

“It doesn’t matter. I certainly have no reason to be treated specially. I have been given so many blessings, I cannot ask for more blessings,” the priest said.

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