As we hear the recent news that John Paul II has been accorded sainthood, it seems that all who felt some special relationship with the Pope are reflecting back on the impact that this great man made on all of us. Although I am not a Catholic, I have always considered John Paul II to be an incredibly important factor in the human side of world affairs.

The attention of our family was first brought to bear on his role when daughter Laurie reported to us later that she had been in St. Peter’s Square all day in September 1978 during the balloting for his election as Pope. At the time, she was backpacking through Europe with Sue Holshouser, the daughter of our classmate Jesse and his wife Betty Jo. Laurie and Sue watched with interest as smoke arose from the Sistine Chapel. This pattern was repeated until they had used up all of their film, so when the black smoke arose signifying that the Pope had been elected, they were all out of film. Three years later, the priest who married Laurie and her husband, then Navy chaplain  and now Bishop Charles Keyser, told us on the day of the marriage that he had been in St. Peter’s Square three months before when it was announced that the Pope had been shot. Bishop Keyser reported that almost as if it were on command, everyone in the square dropped to their knees and reached out to join hands with those around them. Then, everyone began to pray the Lord’s Prayer, each in his or her own native tongue.

As the Pope recovered from his wounds, he is known to have commented that as he had been shot on May 13th – known to all Catholics as “Dia de Fatima”, or the Feast Day of Fatima, which recognized the appearance of the Lord in a vision to three girls in Fatima, Portugal, ---he vowed that he would make a pilgrimage to Fatima on May 13th of the following year to honor his recovery. The Pope’s visit to Portugal in May, 1982 was a major event for that country, and ranked as one of the three major events of the century in Portugal, along with the overthrow of the monarchy in 1910, and the Portuguese revolution of 1974.

As was customary for visiting heads of state, the Pope was assigned to the historic Queluz Palace near Lisbon as his residence and “headquarters”. Previous visitors who were temporary residents of Queluz included Queen Elizabeth of England, General DeGalle while president of France, and several US presidents.

As was also customary for visiting heads of state, the Pope gave a reception at the palace for the diplomatic corps of Lisbon. During the reception (which was quite austere as diplomatic receptions go) the Pope delivered a homily, as was his standard practice on such occasions. Although the Pope spoke in French, which neither Bettye nor I understand, his remarks were distributed in written form in Portuguese, which we were able to deal with. The principal thrust of his remarks was the critical importance of the role of diplomacy in maintaining and achieving peace throughout the world.

Following the Pope’s address, the diplomats and their spouses all formed into a receiving line, organized quite quickly by their diplomatic number, which was a function of their tenure in post. Understandably, without such status, Bettye and I were near the end of the line, right behind the ambassador of Sao Tome and his wife.  When the ambassador was introduced, the Pope ‘s head swung around at the words “Sao Tome”, as if to say “Where in heaven’s name is Sao Tome?” A few months before, I would have had to ask the same question. (Sao Tome is a small island-nation located off the western coast of central Africa.) Then, as I was introduced as “the representative of NATO”, again, the Pope looked as if he were asking “what in heaven’s name is a representative of NATO doing here?” However, he was very gracious, and responded in good English to my few words of thanks for his visit to Portugal. Each male guest in the receiving line was handed a medallion stamped with the Pope’s likeness, and the ladies received a rosary.

On a lighter side, I have always remembered the story of the two senior Portuguese naval officers who were discussing the day’s news towards the end of the Pope’s visit. To set the story up, it should be remembered that since the Pope was a head of state, he was entitled to an Aide-de-Camp of the rank of Vice Admiral or Lieutenant General throughout his visit. . One officer said, “My friend, did you happen to see our compatriot
Admiral Cardoso Tavares on the television last night? The second officer responded “Oh, yes. Didn’t he look handsome in his full dress uniform, with his sword, medals, and cocked hat?” The first officer then said “Yes, and he has been on the television news every day this week. But, tell me, my friend, who was that man all dressed in white who we have seen standing beside him all week?” I am told on good authority that the Pope roared when he was told that story.