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Pope John Paul Helped Him Make Space for God

                                By Anita Tolentino

 

Re-print with permission from Anita Tolentino

This article was first published in the Edmonton Journal on 2003 10 25

 

Our spiritual journey can sometimes be full of mystery. So many things happen in our life that we can never understand.

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My friend Jeff (not his real name) and I were talking very recently about his spiritual journey and how he made a 180 degrees turn ¡Varound from his very lonely, sad, and unproductive lifestyle.  His was a childhood that was influenced by what he thought a normal environment of alcohol and drugs. He came from a family of 12 siblings -  nine boys and three girls. Both his mother and father were alcoholics and drug addicts.

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When I asked him how it felt to be in such a dreadful environment, he said, ¡§It was such a tough life. My oldest sister had to take care of us while my mother spent the time drinking in the bar. My mother would come home drunk and would be as verbally and physically abusive to all of us just as my father did.¡¨

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¡§What do you mean?¡¨ I asked curiously.

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¡§I guess because there were 12 of us, she did not know how to handle our individual needs and when my dad came home drunk, he would beat her up and hit us also with the belt. In return she would drink herself till she gets too drunk and too weak to look after us.¡¨

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¡§ She would go to church on Sundays but when she got home she was very mean to us. It was like she was living a double-standard way of life.¡¨

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Jeff told me that when he was growing up he also learned to drink because he thought it was just a way of life. He married at 19 and for a while he was very happy but during the course of his marriage, he started drinking heavily affecting his relationship with his wife and his kids. He, too, started to become verbally abusive, though not physically, to his own family.

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Eventually, he got so drunk he began missing days of work.  He finally got fired from his job as a bus driver for a sightseeing tour company. The episodes of heavy drinking led to a separation from his wife and two kids, which finally ended in divorce.

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 Lost from this hurtful experience he lived in a tent for a while, deprived of food and money¡Kjust a bum living in the streets on handouts.

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¡§It¡¦s pretty tough living out there in the cold, you know, so I asked my parents to take me back in their home.¡¨

¡§I went to a treatment center and attended Alcoholic Anonymous meetings. There I met an old native man who seemed to be happy with his life. I asked him what helped him to get back on his feet and his answer was, ¡§ Go walking¡¨.

 For three weeks he went for long walks and tried to sort out his life. Then he met a man from the center who told him to attend a retreat for divorced and separated people at the Grey Nuns Centre.

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¡§The retreat was called New Beginnings and Fr. Mike spoke about strategies to rebuild our new life. Those of us suffering from tremendous pain due to divorce, separation or death of a loved one were encouraged to have a new start in our life, to learn to forgive those who have hurt us and learn to forgive them as well as ourselves. He told us that we were all special sons and daughters of God and that God loves us unconditionally for who we are.¡¨

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It was a three-day retreat and on the last day there was such a heavy blizzard that it was impossible for Jeff to go home. He asked the sister in ¡Vcharge of the dorms if he could stay for another night. The Grey Nuns sister informed him he could stay but he could not have the same room because another group already booked it.

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Instead she took him to another room on the main floor. As she opened the door to the room she said, ¡§This was where Pope John Paul slept when he visited Edmonton and we have kept this room the same way as the Pope used it. I hope you will enjoy your stay here.¡¨ 

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¡§I could feel the hair in the back of my head standing and my body started to shiver. I went on my knees and prayed to God. I told Jesus that I was not worthy to stay there, me who had been in the dark for so long. I cried and cried as I prayed. Perhaps Jesus knew that I was seeking for him and his peace to guide me in my search for a new beginning.¡¨

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¡¥I lay down there meditating and I felt so special, feeling the presence of the Pope who I consider so holy. Do I deserve to be here tonight? Is this a mysterious way of God using Pope John Paul to open my heart and make space for God and live happily ever after? I felt so peaceful and safe in that holy room. For once I felt so much serenity and my heart felt so light that night.¡¨

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Since then all doors opened for Jeff. His spiritual uplifting led him to give up drinking completely, to look positively into the new- found life of prayer and peace. He found a job after going back to school and eventually became a counsellor for  native youth and children.

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¡§Now that Pope John is ailing and weak, I pray for him and thank him with all my heart for experiencing his peaceful love in that room. I know that God sent me there that night of the blizzard and used the sister in-charge to bring me there to change my life of darkness to light and hope, and once more believe in the Goodness of God.¡¨

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Anita Tolentino is a lay minister at St. Charles Parish in Edmonton. A retired teacher, she continues to occasionally work as a substitute teacher with the Edmonton Catholic Schools.

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