Rosary prayer, song and personal testimonies — and many memories — were all part of a special vigil in honor St. John Paul II celebrated April 26 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
Archbishop José Gomez led the celebration on the eve of the historic dual canonization of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II in Rome. The vigil marked John Paul’s contributions to the Church during his 26-year papacy, including his commitment to youth, his devotion to the Virgin Mary, and his call for a New Evangelization.
“John Paul loved life and he lived life to the fullest,” said Archbishop Gomez during his welcoming remarks. “By his words and by his example, John Paul showed us all how to make our lives a way of love, and a path of holiness. Let us ask our blessed mother Mary to help us follow John Paul’s example, and be as he was: a good and faithful servant.”
Organized by the archdiocesan Office of New Evangelization (RadiateLA.com) and the Knights of Columbus, the vigil included powerful and moving musical performances by the Los Angeles Archdiocesan Young Adult Chorale (directed by John Flaherty), Danielle Rose, Miriam Solis and Tony Melendez, a gifted singer and musician who was born without arms and plays the guitar with his feet.
In addition to performing a touching musical tribute, Melendez recounted his first encounter with Pope John Paul II, when he performed during his 1987 visit to Los Angeles. The pope was so moved by the beautiful performance that he practically jumped off the stage to greet and kiss Melendez, later stating, “Tony, you are truly a courageous young man.”
That moment, recalled Melendez, “changed my life. ”
“I will never forget him,” he said. “When he kissed me it changed my life. His kiss somehow gave me hope.”
Due to the widespread recognition he received in the aftermath of that memorable performance — and the pope’s very public and heartwarming reaction — Melendez has since had the opportunity to travel to more than 40 countries around the world to share his musical talents.
“I loved him very much and I feel so blessed to have known him,” said Melendez.
Denise Wilcox, who also shared testimony during the vigil, was always inspired by the late pope’s “passionate support for the protection and sanctity of life” — especially after her daughter became pregnant. Early in the pregnancy she started to bleed and her doctor recommended an abortion, but her daughter and son-in-law decided to “leave the baby’s fate in God’s hands.” Her grandson was eventually born prematurely, and very sickly, at 32 weeks gestation.
The prognosis was grim; the baby’s lungs were underdeveloped due to a lack of amniotic fluid and he was not expected to survive. The baby’s tiny heart stopped and was revived several times, despite the doctors’ advice to “let him die.”
Wilcox started praying fervently to John Paul II to “beseech the Lord to save my grandson,” and she placed his prayer card inside the baby’s hospital bassinet.
“His doctor said that my grandson was one of the sickest babies she had seen in 40 years, but that he was the only one that had continuously improved without any setbacks,” recalled Wilcox. “She emphatically told us, ‘This is a miracle.’ I know that my grandson is here today, thriving, because of the miracle from God that resulted from John Paul II’s intercession.”
And for those who might deem the story a series of coincidences, she added: “Tomorrow, the day of John Paul II’s canonization, is my grandson’s birthday.”
For Magnolia Robledo, a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in Pomona, who attended the vigil with her husband and son, Wilcox’s testimony was the highlight of the evening.
“As a mother it made me think of the small everyday things that we complain about, but there are people who are truly facing hardships and find strength in their faith,” she said with tears in her eyes. “John Paul II was an extremely loving person, and I feel so emotional and so happy to be here tonight. It was a very beautiful evening and being here really reinforces my love of my Catholic faith.”