Friday, 20 May 2011 00:00
The recent Beatification of Pope John Paul II brought back my memories of a private audience with the Pope in 1984. It was a very inspirational meeting, led by Congressman Peter Rodino, and came about just a few years after the Pope nearly lost his life at the hands of an assassin’s bullet. It was also a few years before the Berlin Wall was torn down. The “Cold War” was a deep concern.
As we started out from our hotel for the audience, there was great anticipation about what the Pontiff would have to say to us. Our delegation of some ten people consisted of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. The purpose of the audience was not a religiously oriented meeting. It was to pay respects to a world leader and display support for the Pope and his efforts. The Pope had become a global figure of growing political importance as the showdown between Soviet communism and Western freedom played out. I was privileged to be a part of the group.
Our cars soon passed through the Vatican gates, and we parked in an inner courtyard. A member of the Pontiff’s staff greeted us. As we walked to the conference room for the audience, Vatican guards lined the private corridors. Taking our seats, additional representatives from the Pope’s private staff entered the room so that there were now approximately fifteen people anticipating the arrival of Pope John Paul II. In just a few minutes, the door to his private office opened, and the Pope strode smilingly to a large chair in front of the room. He quickly put us at ease and informed us in perfect English that he would like to first give us some formal thoughts relating to his views on freedom – so appropriate for the timing of our visit and events of mid-80s.
After his brief remarks, the Pontiff stood and asked to greet each one of us personally. He then spent about one-half hour informally chatting with the delegation about the United States and the role of our country as a beacon of hope for all desiring freedom. Soon, he was being urged to leave by his anxious staff. It was then that one of the most memorable experiences in my life took place. To this day, a chill of inspiration comes over me when I think back to that moment.
As the Pope walked to the door, our delegation broke into spontaneous applause. The Pope stopped. His hands were clasped as he turned. With penetrating eyes warmly piercing each of us, he said very clearly and softly, “God Bless America. I really mean it – God Bless America.” The Pope turned again, and in an instant vanished through the open door. There was not a dry eye in the room.
America, even today, remains the light of hope for people throughout the world – a truth so inspirationally stated by Pope John Paul II during that private audience. I shall never forget that day.