Ever wonder where Saint John Paul II picked up that beautiful gesture of kissing the ground when arriving in a new country? He actually learned it from a famous French saint.
“It was a gesture I had learned from Saint John Mary Vianney,” John Paul II recalled in Gift and Mystery, a personal work recollecting important influences and moments that led John Paul II to pursue his priestly vocation as a young man.
Saint John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, whose memorial is celebrated today, had a great influence on the priesthood of John Paul II, from as early as his seminary years. John Paul II wrote how, as a young priest studying for his doctorate in Rome, he was able to travel to France and “spend some time in Ars.” He would never forget this experience and it would guide him as a priest with great graces and memories.
“With great emotion I visited the little old church where Saint John Vianney heard confessions, taught catechism, and gave his homilies. It was an unforgettable experience for me. From my seminary years I had been impressed with the figure of the Curé of Ars, especially after reading his biography by Monsignor Trochu. Saint John Mary Vianney astonishes us because in him we can see the power of grace working through human limitations.
“It was his heroic service in the confessional which particularly struck me. That humble priest, who would hear confessions more than ten hours a day, eating little and sleeping only a few hours, was able, at a difficult moment in history, to inspire a kind of spiritual revolution in France, and not only there. Thousands of people passed through Ars and knelt at his confessional. Against the background of attacks on the Church and the clergy in the nineteenth century, his witness was truly revolutionary.
“My encounter with this saintly figure confirmed me in the conviction that a priest fulfills an essential part of his mission through the confessional—by voluntarily ‘making himself a prisoner of the confessional.’ Many times, as I heard confessions in my first parish at Niegowic and then in Cracow, my thoughts would turn to this unforgettable experience.”
— Saint John Paul II, Gift and Mystery: On the Fiftieth Anniversary of My Priestly Ordination