Briefly: Just happened to look at The New York Times site, and see reports there and elsewhere that the pope is near death. No surprise there — he’s been very sick for a long time. But still: The pope is dying. What’s odd is that, despite not having gone to Mass or taken any of the sacraments except on very rare occasions for nearly 40 years, I can be so quickly carried back to Catholic school days and the sense of gravity surrounding the death of a pope.
I’m thinking of Pope John XXIII (I can probably thank him for my early knowledge of Roman numerals) when I write that. He was a sort of kindly old guy who came after Pius XII, who was a cipher in my pre-school appreciation of matters ecclesiastical. I remember Mom liked J23, and thought he was doing good things in the church. I didn’t really understand what things he was doing, but there was the feeling he was a little looser and less formal than people were used to. The Wikipedia article on him has a great anecdote:
“When the First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy, arrived in the Vatican to see him, he began nervously rehearsing the two methods of address he had been advised to use when she entered: ‘Mrs. Kennedy, Madame’ or ‘Madame, Mrs. Kennedy’. When she did arrive, however, to the amusement of the press corps, he abandoned both and rushed to her saying, ‘Jackie!’
Then he died, in 1963, in the summer between third and fourth grade for me. In Chicago, Catholic as it is — or was then, anyway — it was a big deal, and I remember a big black headline on the Daily News, which has, like all the popes except one, expired, too.