How John Paul II was close to me in WYD 2002
In 2002, I was 16 years old and had just finished grade 10. That summer was my first time attending World Youth Day. My parents raised me Catholic and every Sunday we went diligently to mass. I remember often resisting mass, and just felt too bored by the whole experience. In this phase of my life I had no interest in anything religious. Going to World Youth Day that summer was going to be more a trip to be with “friends” than an anticipated spiritual experience. I look back now, particularly with our celebration of the 10th anniversary and recall to myself the seeds that were planted and the story that was beginning to unfold.
My father is a carpenter, he works for a company that owns many apartment buildings throughout the Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph and Cambridge area. The daughter of the owner of the company is married to the man responsible for the whole set up of the sound system in Downsview Park. Leading up to the week of World Youth Day, the person in charge of the stage setup made it known that certain custom “furniture” was necessary for the Holy Father’s visit. Scott, the man behind the sound system knew a connection to my father’s company and sent out a request. Frank, my father’s boss contacted my dad and asked him “Would you like to build a special table and podium for John Paul II?” My father was awestruck and happily agreed. In less than 4 days, my father built the special little paper table that sat on John Paul II’s chair above his lap throughout the Holy Father’s stay in Toronto. You can see this little table in most of the videos you may have seen in our broadcast of the WYD 2002 events. It was with him at Exhibition Place and then in Downsview.
Unfortunately, I could not find a picture of my father standing with the table in his arms just as he completed it. But should you find the little table someday, inside, above the bottom lid you will find this written: Bogdan Adamczyk, Kitchener, Ontario 2002. Alongside with this table, my father built the podium from which the readings were read at the Vigil and then for the reading of the Gospel at the World Youth Day mass on Sunday. My father doesn’t just fix things made of wood, he is a craftsman and an artist!
I remember my dad working on this project and seeing the pictures he took with it. I was really amazed that somehow of all people this project ended up in the hands of my very own father. I knew this was a great honour for him – I could always tell my father had a deep affection for John Paul II. Less then 48 hours before the Holy Father arrived, my father drove up to Toronto to test how well this little table would actually fit on the chair. This is where my father and Fr. Thomas Rosica first met. Fr. Tom, when he met my father said: “Niech bedzie pochwalony Jezus Christus”, which translates: “May Jesus Christ be praised!” Normally, in Polish culture, this is a saying a lay person says to a priest, to which the priest responds: “Na wieki wieków, Amen” (Now and forever, amen). Receiving this greeting in the other way around my father didn’t know what to say!
The table was a match. Shortly after World Youth Day the Holy Father went to Mexico and brought that same table with him. I remember my father handing me a large page from a news paper for me to scan of the Holy Father sitting in his chair with his head leaning into his hand and this table, again, right in front of him. That was the last we heard or saw of this table…
The podium from which the readings were read was given back to my father and he gave it to Fr. Marian Gil, then pastor of Maximillian Koble Parish, who now serves from the Polish Oblate residence in Missisauga. In the summer of 2004 I attended a retreat on Strawberry Island, on the last day Fr. Rosica was invited to talk to us about World Youth Day, his experience being so close to the Holy Father and Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation. I was just finishing high school and contemplating the different avenues that my life might take. I did very well in my media courses in which I could play with video cameras and video editing software and I often thought about my life perhaps in that direction. In all honesty, I think most people pictured me in it than I did myself. While Fr. Rosica was speaking about Salt and Light, I remember thinking to myself: “Maybe someday I will work there.” I still remember the prayer card he handed to me with the prayer on the front and the blue and black TV and logo on the back. I have a replica of this card placed in front of me and my computer here at Salt + Light leaning up against a statue of John Paul II. The months leading up to this summer retreat my life had made a big turn. I wanted to serve the Lord and be open to whatever challenges He might have in store for me.
I went to seminary to give the Lord a blank cheque and see if the priesthood might be for me. I loved my time there and really embraced the formation and friendships. I loved learning philosophy and deepening my knowledge of the Church. While I was finishing my second and final year of Philosophy and anticipating my summer and transition to St. Augustine’s for further studies in Theology, I began to look up what I could do for the coming free months. One of my class mates, now Fr. Paul Hrynczyszyn, had done a summer with Salt + Light. I was curious and thought my media background and interest might be a good fit. I remember talking to Fr. Paul Hrynczyszyn about how to be ready should I be interviewed. He said, “just be you” and “don’t overdress”. I got an email response from Fr. Tom several weeks later saying please come on this day for an interview: “If you are recommended by Paul H., you have to come see me!” I contacted my father to help me with transportation and I showed up at the doorstep here at Salt and Light very nervous about my upcoming interview. My father sat in the reception with me.
Fr. Rosica came to greet me and I introduced my father. I said to Fr. Rosica: “Father, this is my dad, Bogdan. Do you remember my dad? He built the table and podium for the World Youth Day in 2002.” Fr. Tom looked at him and said, “oh yes, I remember. Both of you, come with me.” We sat in his office and for the first 15 minutes my future boss chatted with my dad about how this table ended up in a closet in a convent among vacuum cleaners, and the curiosity of people at the airport and the clerks as he returned it to Rome. I really didn’t know I was being interviewed anymore! 5 minutes later I had a placement for the summer and I was given a tour of the entire office.
This last week, the significance of this pathway really hit me. I really would not be where I am now were it not for John Paull II. Now every time I see the Holy Father with the table, and especially how close he was to it for so long while he spoke and was present to the youth, I think of it as in some mysterious way of him being close to me. Though I did not participate with a devoted heart in World Youth Day 2002, I am experiencing first hand how a seed was sown nonetheless! And for this I thank God, and my dear fellow Polish friend, Karol Wojtyla.
Today I work with a great team in marketing at Salt and Light. I help with the uploading of many of our TV episodes to Youtube, and am overseeing the upload of the complete events of World Youth Day 2002. If you are signed up to our email updaters (What’s On, Parish Bulletin), I draft them, and if you read Fr. Thomas Rosica’s biblical reflections – I prep them for the blog and post them every Tuesday.
Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation