I'd loved Pope John Paul II as a child.
I read anything I could find on his life and swooned in typical teenage fashion over the young Karol's rugged, athletic good looks. I was fascinated by how the world had turned out because of him, and what would have happened if he had married his girlfriend rather than become a priest. Or if he had said no to the dangers of seminary during a war. Or if he had died after being struck by an automobile or working in war camps.
To me, the pope was a symbol of the importance of doing what was right even if it seemed boring or pointless in the moment because the hardships may just be preparing you to — oh, I don't know ¬— become the saintly leader of the world's most significant religion.
So I immediately agreed to write a story about a brother who had been cured of cancer through John Paul II's intercession when Our Sunday Visitor reached out with the assignment. Of course I knew the story would be very fun to write because of my great love for the Polish hero, but what I didn't know is that I would be blessed to meet Brother Robert Ziobro, another Polish hero living in New Jersey.
In every interview, the sweet, jolly religious called me frequently by my first name, making me feel not like an interviewer but a friend. His sly, goofy sense of humor was a delight; unfortunately I didn't get to meet him in person during the story-writing process, but he is, as one of his friends describes him, a "Santa Claus of a man." A Santa Claus with a soft Jersey accent who is also deeply humble and sees every person as a unique relative in Christ.
Brother Robert is one of those people who takes care of everyone but himself, and empathizes with every fiber of his being with those afflicted with cancer, disease, worry and despair. His natural inclination was not to grant an interview when asked, but he wants to give hope to fellow sufferers out there. To be a witness of a beautiful miracle. To live with hope even when the world seems its darkest, even when death seems just around the corner. Because even if it may feel like you've done all you can, God can still surprise you with a whole new aspect of life when you least expect it. Isn't that what a miracle is, anyway? A surprise twist in a still-being-written script of a life?
I want to thank Brother Robert for being a ray of sunshine and hope for me during a gloomy, wintry March and for all he does for people grappling with the horrors of cancer or any other life-threatening diseases.
Mariann Hughes writes from Maryland.