As part of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the pontificate of John Paul II, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has sponsored a handsome new book entitled John Paul II: A Light for the World (edited by Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M.; Sheed & Ward). Accompanying the many photographs by official Vatican photographers are the story of the life and ministry of the pope, key writings by John Paul II and essays on the wide variety of topics addressed by the pope during his pontificate (e.g., human rights, the culture of life, women), as well as reports of “personal encounters” with the pope. We reproduce here three of these reports and two photographs from the book.
I’ve Lost the Holy Father!
Cardinal Roger M. Mahony is archbishop of Los Angeles.
In September of 1987 Pope John Paul made an extensive pastoral visit to the United States, beginning with stops in Miami and concluding in Detroit. Two of those memorable days were spent in Los Angeles.
On the first night of the Pope’s stay in our Cathedral Residence, we had returned from a large public Mass in the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Holy Father was running a bit early on his schedule. It had been planned for him to have a late dinner in the small dining room on the third floor of the Residence.
When the Holy Father, then-Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz (his secretary) and I exited the elevator for the dinner, we could smell the food cooking in the kitchen but there were no cooks, waiters, or other personnel anywhere. Feeling that overwhelming sense of panic, I assured the Holy Father that the staff must be nearby somewhere, and invited him to be seated in the dining room while I searched for them.
It seems that the Secret Service had brought everyone down to the first floor as part of their security protocol, but failed to inform the cooks and waiters that they could return to the dining room area.
When I went back into the small dining room, the Pope and Monsignor Dziwisz were nowhere to be found. I heard voices in the kitchen, and upon entering, I saw the Holy Father lifting the lids on various pots and pans on the stove. Before I knew it, they were serving themselves a nice helping of soup!
The Pope seemed so relaxed, truly enjoying his time in the kitchen, and made us all feel like mutual friends enjoying a meal together.
Kindness for a Bumbling Reporter
Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., is the deputy director for media relations of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
One privilege of the Vatican press corps is riding on the papal plane when the pope goes outside Italy. Such a trip for a journalist can be nerve-racking. On one, a trip to the Netherlands, I took a middle seat towards the front. Custom was for the pope to visit reporters near the end of the trip, allowing each one a question. Everyone hoped for a few special words, maybe even a scoop. I was rapt in the preview text of his arrival remarks when a white sleeve—the Pope’s—suddenly was before my face, reaching to shake hands. I moved quickly to rise, only to be held back by my seatbelt. As I fumbled, the Pope surmised the situation. “Never mind, I’ll come back,” he said. Dejected, I watched my scoop disappear. Why would he remember with all he had on his mind? But he did. It was a sympathetic gesture towards a bumbling reporter and saved my day. I asked about the hostility preceding his trip to Holland and why he was still going. “Because they invited me,” he said.
Protests marked the visit. About a week later, as he moved to his seat on the return flight, the Pope saw me and paused. “You were afraid for me a little,” he said; “Now you see why it was indispensable that I go?”
Always the Personal Touch
Cardinal Francis George, O.M.I., is archbishop of Chicago.
At the ceremony when I received the pallium as Archbishop of Chicago, Pope John Paul II told me that he wanted to talk to me. Anticipating some instructions about what he thought might be done, I went to his library prepared to listen. What I heard was a series of reflections on his relation to previous archbishops of Chicago, from Cardinal Meyer at the Second Vatican Council, to Cardinal Cody during the Pope’s visit to Chicago in 1979, to Cardinal Bernardin and his pastoral projects. Still waiting for instructions, I heard him wish me good luck because there is much work to be done in a large archdiocese. The encounter reflected the Pope’s personality and his approach: intensely personal, with a remarkable memory for names and details, encouraging and trusting, setting others free.
At the head of a table, the Holy Father is the gracious host. He enjoys his food and puts others at ease. With his penetrating glance singling out one or the other, he draws all into the conversation. Throughout, he is listening and teaching, himself a model for the strategy he believes should be the Church’s approach to the world: proposing rather than imposing. This is a man who never fails to declare the truth, but always in love.