Posts Tagged ‘Blessed John Paul II’


Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

Pope Francis is now only hours from arriving at Andrews Air Force base in Washington having completed his journey of hope to the island nation of Cuba. Having three times stood on the ground awaiting the arrival of now St. John Paul II, I can imagine the feelings of those who have worked so hard to prepare for this moment.

The women and men of the United States Secret Service, many of whom are Catholic, are filled with professional anxiety for the Holy Father’s safety. They know they shall never protect anyone again in their lives before crowds of people desperate to see the Pope. No elected official draws such a vast crowd ever (though they wish they could), no other head of state, even the Queen of England, would see so many people.

Those who have worked so diligently and hard preparing to host the Pope also want everything to go well. Representatives of the U.S. government, the Bishops’ conference, the Archdioceses of Washington, New York and Philadelphia, the United Nations are now just hours from their one moment to test all they had planned with a man who is notorious for going off script and schedule. They want and we pray that all goes well.

The media have sought credentialing in incredible numbers to cover the papal visit. About one hundred international, Vatican-credentialed media will accompany the Pope on the plane from Cuba and will return with him to Rome on Sunday. But when they step off the plane at Andrews Air Force base, they morph into the larger pool of media swarming on Washington, New York and Philadelphia.

Some just can’t stand good news and Gospel hope and love so the negative spins have begun. Don’t listen to them, dear reader, listen to the Pope and carefully read and ponder what he has to say. Agendas abound for this visit but there is only one which  really matters and that belongs to the Successor of St. Peter, Francis. His is a message of “yes” and not “no”. His is a message of God’s love for every human being and not just those who feel they have made it. His is a message of mercy, not punishment. His is a message of sharing not hoarding. His is a message of inclusion, not exclusion. His is a message of joy in the Gospel, not burdens. His is a message of relief, not bondage.  Listen to him – this immigrant to our shores, as he opens the vision of Jesus to all humankind. Don’t let the “spin-doctors” spoil the moment – one of the greatest for Catholicism in my lifetime.

Finally, tell yourself throughout the next five and a half days that he is speaking to you, to me as a bishop who I am sure I will hear an earful, to a nation that values its religious pluralism but also stands “Under God.” He speaks as a priest who for all of his priesthood until March 2013 served a poor nation, governed by despotic anarchists who disvalued human life and squandered what profit their office brought them on protecting an economic order of very rich and very poor only. He believes that God seeks for all people equal opportunity, a life of freedom from tyranny, sufficient economic activity to allow all God’s children to live fruitfully and a future for the earth, which is currently at grave risk due to unfettered capitalism.

The barque of Peter has arrived on our shores and its faithful navigator, Pope Francis, wishes us to study the winds of change, which will lead to a better life with God and with one another than what we now have.

Fasten your seatbelt, as we are sure to encounter predicted turbulence.



Monday, February 11th, 2013
with Pope Benedict XVI at the Ad Limina visit in May 2012. Photo credit: Servizio Fotografico de "L.O.R" Cita del Vaticano.

With Pope Benedict XVI at the Ad Limina visit in May 2012. Photo credit: Servizio Fotografico de “L.O.R” Cita del Vaticano.

Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation this morning and will be leaving the Petrine office on February 28, 2013. I arrived at the office today with the parking lot full of television trucks and a room full of reporters. I began with a brief statement which you can read by clicking here, knowing that the media gathered was likely looking for some hint of controversy or some deep, dark secret as to the “real” reason. For the full audio of the press conference, recorded by our Catholic radio station Spirit FM 90.5, please click here. I also knew I would have a better opportunity to share what I believe to be the truth here in this blog.

I believe the Holy Father has served the Church incredibly well throughout his entire life. Brilliant, patient and pastoral as priest, bishop, cardinal-prefect and pope, he has given his unique gifts to the Church and we have been enriched by them for many years prior to his election as the successor to St. Peter. He loves the Church and the Church should love him as he exits “stage right” to spend what time he has left in prayer, reflection, and hopefully writing. Ever the superb teacher, I would hope that there might be enough energy left in the man to continue to open the worlds of theology and scripture to us as he has done so beautifully with his three books on Jesus of Nazareth.

Seventy-eight years old when called to the chair of Peter as bishop of Rome, he summoned forth enormous personal energy to lead us for eight years. No one who has been in his presence, as I have had the privilege of being, could be anything but happy that his desire to withdraw from the physical, mental and emotional demands of the office have led him in his 85th year to wish to relinquish the office and all its demands. Wishing to spare us anything resembling a “death watch” and sensing that he has done what God has asked of him, he has given the Church one last gift. And, as I mentioned during the press conference, it should not have been a surprise to anyone. He said several times he would resign if he felt no longer able to lead the Church as God might wish of him or as he personally wished. Most all Popes today are selfless servants of the Gospel. Believe it or not, they live simply. There is no “rush” derived from the exercise of power and most dread the demands of administration. If elected, they must choose to serve, and if they choose to serve, they must sacrifice so many things that we hold important in our daily lives.

Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict are entirely different but I believe that the latter has survived very nicely any comparison to the former. They were good friends and held each other in esteem. Benedict did not try to be John Paul because it would not have worked. Comfortable in his own skin, Pope Benedict XVI led the faithful according to the mandate given to Peter by Christ and came to serve and not to be served. He has been a wonderful leader who has often been wounded by the actions of a few which have called into doubt the relevancy and credibility of the Church. Let me add here, knowing that this will upset some of his critics, that the bishops of this country and of the world have had no greater friend in addressing the issue of sexual misconduct than Josef Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI. He got it early on and knew what was required for the ultimate purification of the Church.

Popes mean a lot to bishops. We recognize them as the supreme heads of our family of Roman Catholic Christianity. We wish to assist them in spreading the Gospel and shepherding Christ’s church. We do not wish to become simply another problem to them and we take an oath of loyalty to them. I have always admired and esteemed Pope Benedict, before and after his election. He was generally easy to serve, support and admire. I will miss him as will many other people in the Church and I wish him well in his final years, happy to have been in his service and the Lord’s when this humble successor of St. Peter decided to step aside and let another succeed to the throne which is really a cross.

Thank you, Pope Benedict, and may God give you strength and health for the remaining part of your earthly pilgrimage.



Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

A famous quote always attributed to Blessed Pope John XXIII was when asked “how many people work at the Vatican?” he responeded, “about half.” Well today is a long work day at the Vatican and we visiting bishops on ad limina participated in the full day’s work. Normally, Monday though Saturday, Vatican offices are open from 8:30am until 1:00pm at which time they close for lunch and the day. However, on Tuesday and Friday, the offices of the Holy See reopen at 4:30pm and remain open until 7:00pm for a total thirty one and one half hour work week. But gosh do they get holidays and holydays and birthdays (at least the Pope’s), anniversaries (at least the Pope’s), and election days (at least the Pope’s)? Last week, Region XIII sat for a day while the Holy See shut down for the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. And by the way, I think that they get paid for fourteen months, not twelve. How did that happen, you might ask? Long ago all Italians started receiving an extra check at Christmas time and another at vacation time from their employer and the Holy See had no choice but to offer the same. They also have something entitled “severance” which accumulates for every year worked and is given at the time of departure from their employment for whatever reason and it is in addition to a pension plan. Please let me be clear that total salaries here are probably on par with the US but divided differently. How did I get off on this tangent anyway?

Concelebrating Mass at the Altar of Blessed John XXIII with bishops from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina . Photo kindness of SueAnn Howell with the Catholic News Herald.

Ah,  now I remember. Our day was supposed to begin with Mass at the Altar above the remains of Blessed John Paul II, now transferred from the crypt of St. Peter’s into the basilica itself. Including the priests travelling with us, precisely at eight a.m. we forty bishops and priests processed solemnly from the sacristy to the altar for Mass. Little did we know that a priest had just taken it upon himself to start Mass at that altar without permission and we heard the few people with him singing the Alleluia before the Gospel as we approached. So long to Mass at the tomb of Blessed John Paul II. Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte, North Carolina was the celebrant and homilist this morning. So what was planned for most of we bishops whom he had appointed and interacted with in so many ways during his pontificate, as an especially poignant moment found us scurrying to the Altar below which the remains of Blessed John XXIII rest. You can view photos graciously taken and shared by SueAnn Howell with The Catholic News Herald, the Diocese of Charlotte’s newspaper, here. Blessed John Paul II’s tomb is at the moment the most visited spot in the Basilica I would say, at least for prayer. More tourists take pictures of Michaelangelo’s “Pieta” just a few feet away but if there is a Hail Mary being prayed, it is more likely at Blessed John Paul II’s tomb and altar. Unlike yesterday’s chapel at the Tomb of St. Peter, this is right out in the middle of the Basilica and even though the church does not open for day-trippers until nine a.m. after the private Masses are concluded, there is still enough traffic near this altar to be aware of it.

From there it was a quick trip to the first of three congregations to be met today and an important one at that, the Congregation for Bishops. This congregation is solely responsible for processing nominations for bishops to serve as ordinaries in dioceses, as auxiliaries in dioceses, and as coadjutor bishops in dioceses (this category means that when the bishop dies or resigns or retires, he is immediately replaced by his coadjutor bishop). It was noted that the very table at which we sat and room in which we met was the “birthing” table on which we bishops were “born.” Now, the Congregation for Bishops is not the only “game in town” when it comes to making recommendations to the Holy Father for his ultimate decision on who gets what or goes where. A large portion of the world considered mission territory has its bishops processed and recommended by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Almost all of Canada, for example, is under the Congregation for Bishops, but parts of the far northwest Canada, like the Yukon Territory remains the province of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.  A French-Canadian is presently the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, and he was bishop of Quebec City prior to being brought to Rome for his current responsibilities of Pope Benedict. He spent a goodly amount of time this morning meeting with us and we spoke openly and honestly of things which either concerned or were of interest to us. The Congregation, as you might expect and as I hope you pray for, is interested in receiving from all bishops good, holy, smart, gifted, compassionate, patient, loving, energetic and hardworking candidates. In earlier blogs I have described the process by which bishops are chosen so I will not repeat it here. I enjoyed the conversation with Cardinal Ouellet and the time spent together.

From there we walked to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity nearby. Cardinal Kurt Koch is the President of this Pontifical Council (Congregations are led by Prefects, Councils by Presidents). If there is a more sympatico Council in all of Rome, it has to be this one. It is extremely lonely most of the time out on the ecumenical limb and the Cardinal carries not only the responsibility of being the Holy See’s liaison to Protestant and other Christian religions, but also for Interreligious Relations with the worldwide Jewish population as well as Dialogue with the Orthodox Churches of the world. As a Church it always seems to some that we are doing something offensive or at least insensitive and Cardinal Koch and his staff are our first line of offense to mend broken fences and soothe raw nerves. Most bishops, I suspect, wish we had the time and the talent to be more ecumenically engaged in our dioceses and I know the Council would like this as well. We spoke generally about relationship with Churches, the bi-lateral dialogues which are still taking place between ourselves and some of the Protestant churches, and our continuing desire to strengthen the bridges built with our Jewish sisters and brothers. All in all, a great morning.

The North American College on the hill where I am staying did not begin up here. As a matter of fact this building was constructed on land given by Pope Pius XII following the end of the Second World War. It began under Pope Pius IX downtown very near the Trevi Fountain on via dell umilta (Humility Street – a nice place for those studying for the priesthood). That building is still in use by the College and is used for ordained priests from the United States getting their advanced degrees at Roman Pontifical Universities. Originally a convent for sisters, The Casa Santa Maria now is home to about 60 graduate priests and they invited us for lunch today but I chose to spend time catching up and preparing for the afternoon meeting with the Congregation For Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments for which I am the facilitator.

Our conversations so far with all whom we have met have been cordial to a fault and in some instances quite helpful.



Thursday, April 26th, 2012

St. Peter's on a "slow" morning. Photo kindness of Douglas Vanderhook

Next Friday, a week from today, I leave for Rome and my third visit Ad Limina  since becoming your bishop. Every bishop in the world is to travel to Rome once every five years to report on the situation of his diocese, both to the Holy Father, and to his collaborators in the various Congregations, Councils and other offices of the Holy See. Our group is the next to the last of fifteen groupings of US bishops to make the trip since the latest round began in the late Fall of 2011.

There are so many bishops in the United States that we travel for these visits by episcopal regions. Our “region” includes the provinces of Atlanta and Miami or perhaps more understandable to you, the bishops of the arch/dioceses of Charlotte, Raleigh, Charleston, Atlanta, Savannah, Pensacola-Tallahassee, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, Orlando, Venice, Palm Beach and Miami.

Our visit is preceeded by the accumulation of pages and pages of reports and statistics indicating progress and/or loss since the last report (now eight years ago). There is also a narrative as well. The report was sent in advance and generally someone in each major office is delegated to peruse the reports for any anomolies or suspect problems.

In the past, bishops had private meetings with the Holy Father of about twenty minutes. In my two visits with Blessed John Paul II, the first five were always spent answering his questions about the health of Bishop Larkin, his classmate at the Belgian College in Rome in their younger days. There were always a few openers by the Holy Father (how are vocations? how is family life? what is being done for evangelization?) but generally with him, the bishop had to carry the conversation. At the end there were pictures with the Pope and a brief but fond farewell. Pope Benedict has decided to forego the private meetings and instead meets with us by province and during this time he invites an open discussion of any issues of concern to ourselves. Bishops completing their Ad Limina visits this year have spoken well of both the discussions and overall experience.

Then we make the rounds of various “must-see” congregations and councils and some of those which we wish to see to conduct any business which we might have.

In November I had the privilege of celebrating Mass for my pilgrimage group at the altar above the new tomb for Blessed John Paul II. Picture kindness of Marc Barhonovich

Required of every bishop in the world on these visits is Mass at the Tomb of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica and at the Tomb of St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. We will also be offering Mass during our week in Rome at the North American College, at the altar of Blessed John Paul II in St. Peters, and at the Basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major. Between the Masses throughout the city, the work and the obligatory receptions (North American College Graduate House, the residence of the Ambassador of the United States of America to the Holy See, the Villa Stritch where US priests working for the Holy See reside), I can assure you that it is no “Roman holiday.” I will be exhausted when I return and have to plunge right into the confirmations, graduations and ordination schedule. I will attempt to blog each day but two cautions: there is a six hour difference in time zones and I must respect certain confidentialities along the line. Still I hope to capture the dialogue and exchanges. Next week prior to departure and after I have met with the priests of the diocese, I will indicate on what topic I wish to dedicate my three or five minutes of interaction with the Holy Father. If you have any thoughts and/or suggestions for the topic, please leave them in the comments column (only parishioners of the Diocese of St. Petersburg please, as the rest of the readership have their own bishop).



Monday, May 2nd, 2011

After a very long week-end which included four confirmations in two days, one in Citrus county, one in Hernando country, and two in Pinellas county, I returned home last night (Sunday) and before going to bed was watching the recording of the Beatification ceremony of Blessed John Paul II when my IPhone signaled a major breaking news story. Placing the Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on hold, I turned on NBC and first heard that the President of the United States had asked for air time to speak to the nation about a major issue of national security at 1030pm. Like most of you, I waited and watched and then about 1045pm heard that the network could confirm that the President was about to announce the death of Osama Bin Laden and that our soldiers were in possession of his dead body. An enormous sense of relief swept over me. I instinctively thought of the late Pope and what he might have thought were he alive.

When in 2001, President Bush declared war on terrorism and especially on Al Qaeda, the Holy Father noted that the action could be morally justifiable as an act of self-defense and a response to an unprovoked attack on innocent civilians. For the Pope and the Holy See to acknowledge that the criteria for a just war could be met in this action was an unusual moment in modern history. It was no surprise to many when the intelligence community throughout the world posited that the same Al Qaeda had targeted the Holy Father himself for assassination. Later Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict would raise serious questions about the expansion of the Afghanistan initiative.

No one takes pleasure in the violent death of another but a sense of justice being served, peace possibly being advanced, one less terrorist to manage more attacks on civilian targets, is no sin. I think the Lord would understand. Not knowing all the details at this writing  I think most citizens of the United States are relieved as I am that this  mastermind of the deaths of thousands was brought to justice. We have lost 45,000+ of our young women and men in the ten years plus since 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan, a high price to pay. Just this week-end, it was revealed that a young Marine from Plant City was the latest to die in Afghanistan serving his country. Their families must surely be experiencing some measure of comfort this morning though the pain of their loss will long outlive the relief of last night’s news.

We all need to continue to pray for peace in our world. Our world is a complicated place and it needs more leaders like Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict to help us navigate the path to true peace which is never war. For the moment, I shall simply ponder my personal feeling of relief at this stunning news.



Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Tomorrow morning at four o’clock (EDT) the Mass at which Pope John Paul II will be declared “blessed” will begin in the exact place where little more than six years ago he lay for his funeral Mass. I have thought a lot about this moment since the announcement of his beatification and particularly about my feelings about him and experiences with him, most of which I have already shared with you these past five days. First, it is extremely unusual for anyone like myself to say that on many occasions I shared Eucharist, the stage, the airplane, a helicopter,  prayer with a “Blessed” now only one verifiable miracle away from sainthood.  On the final day of  World Youth Day 1993 and before their departure for Rome, Bishop Stanislaus Dziwisz brought me unsolicited the gold vestment the Pope had worn on Saturday at Denver’s Cathedral for his Mass with the bishops of the United States and elsewhere gathered for World Youth Day. I still have it and wear it. Soon it will be a third-class relic, something which touched the person of a saint. I should probably retire it and never use it again – it has his coat of arms on the back. As he grows closer to sainthood, I think I grow more unworthy but I doubt if he would  think that.

John Paul II was at heart a simple man. He did not put on airs, seek to impress though he could get his message across better than a lot of other people. There is that marvelous picture of him (above) with his right hand raised in blessing and his white shirt under the cassock unbuttoned at the wrist where he had  forgotten to attach the cuff link. Sometimes his cassocks would be rumpled. That mattered little to him. He was consumed with preaching the Gospel and living the Gospel and thus was the consummate evangelizer – an evangelist something like  Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, telling the world about Jesus. Even non-Catholics had great respect for him and for his message as was evidenced by the near universal sense of loss expressed at the time of his death.

I have mentioned before he did not seem to take great concern in managing the vast Church he was chosen to lead. He left that to others. And contrary to what some people would or are saying, I don’t think he personally had any personal favorite people except friends from Poland. The doorkeeper and the one who made the judgments about who was worthy of the Pope’s presence and attention was his life-long personal secretary, Don Stanislaus Dziwisz. There rested the true source of access in his papacy. If you passed muster with later Bishop Dziwisz and now a Cardinal, you were almost always OK with the Holy Father. In the days just before the announcement of my appointment as bishop of St. Petersburg, Father David Toups, then a seminarian at the North American College met Bishop Dziwisz who knowing that he was from St. Petersburg said “soon a new bishop for you. You will like him!”

Saints do not get to be saints because every decision they made in life was correct or perfect. They are saints because of their personal holiness, their self-sacrificing service to the Gospel imperatives. Some of this negative criticism coming in advance of the beatification tomorrow reminds me of the run-up to World Youth Day of which I wrote on Wednesday – controversy, disdain, disbelief that Catholics could care for this man the way they do, etc. Yet polls indicate that this week 93% of all American Catholics surveyed love Pope John Paul II and are happy he is being recognized not as someone who always got it right in everything (except in matters of faith and morals) but as someone who was personally deeply holy. Quite frankly, he was the Pope who made us proud to be Catholic and I don’t think the naysayers will penetrate that reality this time as they failed to do in Denver. Pope Paul VI was perhaps a better manager of the Church worldwide and the Curia but he did not have the gifts of language facility, personal charm and charism, electricity which Blessed John Paul II was able to generate. Personally holy Paul VI was but it did not come through the way it did for his successor once removed.

Blessed John Paul II was always energized by a crowd. He sought out the spotlight and used it well for the good of the Gospel. With well over a hundred trips outside of Italy and several hundred outside of Rome but within Italy, he was a Pope of and for the people, no longer a “prisoner of the Vatican”. His focus was applying the Gospel to daily life. He begged the officers of the Conference at one pranzo or lunch to send him names of deeply holy, saintly married couples. He lamented that there were too few of them in the role of saints and that marriage deserved as much saintly regard as the priesthood or religious life. On another occasion when the Jewish community of the United States was up in arms about the rumored proposal that Queen Isabella of Spain would soon begin the process toward canonization, I knew she did not have a chance when his answer was “it is very difficult for royalty to become saints.”

Additionally, Blessed John Paul II had an unerring sense of popular piety and what it needed and when it could he helpful. There were many skeptics here in the United States church when he announced that the millenial year, 2000, would be a special year of Jubilee for the Church. Critics here said out loud, the time for Holy Years and great public religious celebrations had long passed. Well, the millions who came through Rome on the Millennial Holy Year did not think so and the Pope made a believer out of me that he sure knew a lot better than I what people would respond to when called to expressions of devotion and popular piety. Lots of Americans including about 150 with me from this diocese observed the Holy Year in 2000 and it was a success far beyond the imagination of many. He was almost infallible in knowing what would work to reawaken, even for an instant or a year, the deepest religious feelings of Catholics beginning with World Youth Days through the two Holy Years of his p0ntificate.

So today is more than a day for his native Polish people, it is a day for the whole Church. Did it come too quickly, history will ultimately be the judge. Pope St. Pius X, the last Pope to be beatified (and later canonized) took thirty-seven years to reach this moment but for this participant of the energy of his pontificate, I thank God I am alive for the moment. With Blessed John Paul II’s soul mate, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I have now touched and been touched by two people whom the Church universal will likely soon refer to as “saints” but it didn’t take the process to convince me that these two were in different ways extraordinarily holy people.

So it has taken me this week about 7,500 words to share some of my experiences in my lifetime with this extraordinary moral force. I shall record the events in Rome and watch them when I can as I have an extremely busy week-end. But it will be wonderful to watch that vast piazza at St. Peters and the surrounding streets burst once again with people chanting as I know they will, “santo subito.” Blessed John Paul II, intercede with the Father to whom you are now close, to help this local Church serve all of God’s people.



Thursday, April 28th, 2011

When World Youth Day 1993 came to an end and knowing that my eleven year service to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops-United States Catholic Conference would most likely end on February 3, 1995, I was certain that my life as a U.S. “travel agent” for Pope John Paul II would come to an end and that in Denver I watched for the last time his plane leave these shores for Rome. Imagine my surprise when in 1994 we received notice that the Pope had accepted a second invitation from the United Nations for a visit later that year which would include Newark and Baltimore. Both Archbishop McCarrick (now a Cardinal) and Cardinal Keeler, archbishops of Newark and Baltimore respectively, had successfully lobbyed the Holy Father to visit their cities during what was to be simply a three day sojourn back in the United States. Once again my friends in Rome, Father Tucci, Monsignor Tscherrig and Dr. Gasbari got in touch with me and said, “guess what?” This trip was to be different, I was told, as it would not be a pastoral visit per se but a response to the U.N. which would include brief stops in the two cities.

The United Nations always likes to throw its weight around and in 1979 and again in 1994 did not want the Church to take control of the New York visit, or to put it bluntly, they did not want anyone else “raining on their parade.” In 1994 the papal representative to the United Nations shared their vision, so planning which the Holy See sought from the bishops’ conference became something of a challenge. I asked Archbishop McCarthy, of my home archdiocese of Miami, to lend me Father Michael Souckar to represent my office in the planning and the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the U.N. and the Office of Protocol of the United Nations basically told him to stay away from their moment. I might also add that even though the United States Secret Service was responsible for the Holy Father’s safety from landing to take-off, the U.N. did not “cotton” to their presence either. So the planning was somewhat challenging. To the disappointment of the United Nations, the arrival from Rome was to take place at Newark International Airport, not Kennedy, and the Pope would follow his usual custom when visiting a new arch/diocese of going directly to pray in the local Cathedral or Church in thanksgiving for his safe passage. This meant the magnificent and beautiful Cathedral in Newark. Then to top it all off, when the visit to the United Nations was finished, the Pope would celebrate Mass in what was then the new Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Unlike in 1979 when the Pope stayed at the Cardinal’s residence on Madison Avenue in New York, attached to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, this time the case was made that he would stay at the very small residence of the Permanent Observer to the United Nations from the Holy See on the East side.

Baltimore was to be the final stop on the visit prior to departure from the United States and its inclusion was due to the respect which the Pope had for Cardinal Keeler and the fact that Baltimore was the first diocese to be erected in the United States. After a couple of months of planning and preparation, the Holy Father fell in the shower and broke his leg, the trip was to be postponed for a year and I was home free. He eventually did all that I have outlined above in 1995 but I had left the bishops’ conference and personally felt that I had “done my time” with huge papal events.

I would see the Holy Father next in 1997, just after concluding my first year as bishop of St. Petersburg. The occasion was the Ad Limina Visit which is required of every bishop in the world whereby we visit the Successor of St. Peter, report on our diocese, and pray at the tomb of the Apostles which means Mass at St. Paul’s Outside the Walls where it is believed the mortal remains of St. Paul are buried and at St. Peter’s Basilica. Being always a gracious host, Pope John Paul II scheduled four occasions in one week in which the bishops on their Ad Limina (meaning to the “threshold of St. Peter) visits would be with him: concelebrate the morning Mass in his private chapel, pranzo (the midday meal), a private twenty minute audience with him in his office, and a final session in which he would offer a discourse to all the visiting bishops from each region in the United States. On my first visit, he said to me “You were the General Secretary?” As quickly as I replied “yes,” he said, “and now you are in St. Petersburg?” “Yes, thanks to you Holy Father,” I replied. And then without hesitating he said to me, “How is Bishop Larkin? Give him my best and my blessing.” When the Holy Father was a graduate student priest in Rome he lived at the Belgian College and Bishop Larkin as a young priest was there as well. In fact, Bishop Larkin and the future pope would take long walks in the afternoon during which Bishop Larkin taught Karol Wojtyla English. Then we made the obligatory trip to a large Rand McNally World Atlas on the table and he asked me to point out to him where St. Petersburg and the diocese was in the United States. We then sat down and he asked questions about vocations, the number of priests and religious, marriages, general information that I am sure we were all asked. When he was finished he would ring a bell and the papal photographer would magically appear from behind a curtain, take our picture together and on that occasion they brought Monsignor Muldoon into the office for a picture with the Pope as well.

My final time with Blessed John Paul II was a year before he died, April of 2004, and he was so infirm that I personally felt very guilty taking his time that day, as did all my brother bishops from the region. I have a picture of him taken with the group from what was then Region 4 of the USCCB – Wilmington, Delaware to Miami, Florida and I shall post it here. It was horrible taking my leave of him that day because I knew it would be my last time with a man who shaped my life in the Church and with whom I intersected on so many occasions and in so many ways. I only had similar feelings to those that day as a youngster in high school when I  would say “good-bye” to my aging grandparents in Boston during our once yearly visits knowing that I might never see them alive again. To this man I owed so many memories, so many blessings, the gift of my episcopal office. I never ever saw him mad, angry, distressed. He was always so serene and so supportive. Twenty-five years had passed since that moment when in Boston he came down for coffee at Cardinal Medeiros’ residence at 4:30am in his cassock, largely unbuttoned. Vigorous, athletic, needing practically no sleep, pumped by crowds and sharply focused when saying Mass, it was hard to see him laboring for breath and to be understood. There was a part of me that wished to embrace him, hug him, say thanks, but I knew he needed what was left of my time to prepare to see the next bishop in line and one did not do that with popes. My time with this saintly man had come to an end.

My final time in the presence of this saint in the making with the other bishops of Region IV

I was at Paris Charles deGaulle airport when I learned that John Paul II had gone to His Father’s house. I was returning from a Catholic Relief Services visit to Banda Ache in Indonesia where in ninety minutes 212,000 people has lost their lives in the tsunami the previous December 26th. I found a quiet corner, took out my rosary and offered him to the Father, Son, Spirit and to Mary to whom he had offered everything (“Totus Tuus”). I grieved his death and celebrated his life with the people of the Church of St. Petersburg like Catholics all over the world. He was in many ways, my spiritual father.



Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

Blessed John Paul II with the author in Miami in 1987.

I remember so well my first up close and personal meeting with Pope John Paul II. I had met Pope Paul VI as a layperson and had my picture taken with him at a General Audience. His eyes pierced right through me and he looked right at me. While not as facile with English as Pope John Paul II was, we still had a brief moment of eye and speech contact. That night I did not want to wash my hands. The first several meetings with Pope John Paul II were similar occasions but prior to becoming General Secretary and in preparation for the trip of 1987, I had my first meal with him in his apartment and in his dining room. Archbishop Marcinkus had given me a private tour through the papal apartments one summer when it was being repainted and the Holy Father and his entire household were at Castel Gandolfo but the first time for lunch (pranzo in Italian) I can remember thinking only “wow, if the boys on the block could only see me now.”

Pope John Paul II truly opened his life to others. There were guests for his morning Mass, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Cardinal O’Connor used to complain that he was always being invited to cena which is dinner and the Pope would usually only have soup, some small salad and a piece of fruit. The complaints made it to the papal kitchen apparently because for guests at night there soon were several courses set out but the Pope’s remained the same light meal.

The dining room was small, very plain but the table was expandable with limitations. Pranzo with the Holy Father would always consist of a small first course like prociutto and melon, a pasta course followed by a meat or chicken course, fruit and then dessert. The Pope ate fast and listened to all conversation but would only speak occasionally. My officers always had some business to do so “junior”  kept quiet most of the time. The meal would last about forty-five minutes and then we would accompany him to his private chapel where we would kneel in private prayer for about ten minutes and then he would take his leave for a rest. There would always be a small gift, usually papal rosaries, shared with us prior to our leaving the apartment.

His private quarters would have surprised almost any visitor. On the second floor where most guests were received the rooms are lit beautifully and there is damask and gold leaf cornices in the ceilings and beautiful but horribly uncomfortable chairs. If one was coming to see him in audience in the morning, you started in one room and were moved from room to room until you were finally in the waiting area nearest his office. His office was a large and spacious room almost totally devoid of furniture. He sat at a desk at one end and there was a chair for the visitor on the side of his good ear. His private bedroom struck me as so spartan that it was almost penitential. But the public rooms while they would never pass muster at the Ritz look richer than they are.  Popes live simply no matter what the world thinks.

I cannot remember an exhaustive discussion with the Holy Father on any of my trips and we went twice a year to meet with him and his officials of the Roman Curia. When we were there and the “iron curtain” was crumbling and Poland was beginning to smell the fresh air of freedom, he wondered out loud how his native homeland would fare since the people  had become so dependent on benefits from the state for which they would now have to work hard to replace. He disliked communism as both an economic and idealistic system but he also disliked unfettered capitalism, no matter what Republican and friendly writers say about his economic theory. I heard him personally too often on the subject. He was intrigued by religious pluralism in the U.S. which we were always at pains to say had served us well but never having tasted it he remained slightly skeptical. I would not call him a great conversationalist but then working in so many languages and doing it so well was in itself a major accomplishment.

The first moment when he called me his "Travel Agent" in the United States

He would occasionally, very occasionally, ask about a neuralgic situation in the Church in the United States or we would bring it up. Those conversations save one, which I will detail in the final of these reflections on Saturday dealing with clergy sexual abuse, remain largely confidential but minutes are in the archives of the episcopal conference in Washington and will be available to historians at the proper time. The administrative work of the Holy See did not interest him a great deal, most likely because there were others to attend to that, but one always had the sense that he was looking beyond the present generation to the Church of the future. It was almost as if when you were with him you could sense “today will take care of itself, it is tomorrow for which we must prepare.” Ever gracious, always hopeful, deeply spiritual, these are my memories of the man. A CEO he probably was not and sometimes perhaps the Church is better because of that but as a spiritual leader he had about himself a charism, a presence, a sense of serenity, which was disarming, assuring and hopeful.

I was never nervous or afraid in his presence. At times he was almost like an uncle one did not see often but who was always interested in how you were doing. He teased me on occasion like in Los Angeles when we arrived ahead of time for an event with oriental religions (Buddhism, Shintoism, Hindu, etc.) and were made to wait in the wings. He asked me, “What is wrong?” and I said “Holy Father we are early” to which he smiled and replied, “It will hurt my reputation to be early.” I laughed. The hardest question he ever asked me was at the University of South Carolina football stadium where he and Billy Graham were waiting in one of the portals to come out on stage and looking at the signage, he turned to me as asked “What is a Gamecock?” I told him it was a mascot and then he asked me what a “Gamecock mascot” was? I told him I would tell him on the plane later that night to New Orleans.

Most of all, however, I remember him in chapel and at prayer. Forty people could surround him at 645 in the morning in his private chapel  prior to Mass and one could almost hear him communicate with God from deep inside his being. They were the groans and sounds of a man in communication with something far deeper than most of us can ever go. It was eerie at times and certainly always mystical. There can be no doubt about his personal holiness.



Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

In a long papacy and especially a historically important papacy like that of soon-to-be Blessed Pope John Paul II, significant milestones are passed and significant initiatives are begun. In the latter category, nothing should compare in modern Church history with the Pope’s desire to convene a World Youth Day somewhere in the world every two years. It was his idea; he called he first one, attended all the rest and seemed to draw inner strength every time. I became General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in February of 1989 and soon word began to circulate in Rome that the Holy Father wanted to celebrate a World Youth Day in the United States. My superiors were generally against it, at least my President, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati was, and for some good reasons. The United States did not have the infrastructure to gather so many young people in one place (trains, bus systems, etc. as Europe, for example ) and the potential cost. It also did not help that Cardinal John O’Connor of New York spoke vociferously against it on several occasions (mostly likely fearing that New York would be chosen). So there was a lot of internal opposition but there were also voices and minds open to exploring places and opportunities. My associate General Secretary at that time was Father Dennis Schnurr (now Archbishop of Cincinnati) and I gave him the principal task of site selection and putting together a proposal. They looked at a lot of places and finally began to settle on the Denver area, which Archbishop J. Francis Stafford (now a Cardinal) supported as long as financial and administrative help would come from the Conference. Denver was offered to the Pope for World Youth Day 1993 and accepted.

There were lots of challenges to be dealt with: transportation of the youth to and from Denver, weather variations from extremely hot in the day time to cold at night, infrastructure in Denver, transportation to the Vigil and Mass site, lodging a half million youth and lurking behind it all, both in Rome and the U.S. was the question of whether or not any young people from the US would actually come. Archbishop Pilarczyk handed the episcopal leadership of the planning over to his Vice-President, Archbishop William H. Keeler of Baltimore who loved the “chase” so to speak and was a great help as well .

By 1993 the media in the United States had just about had enough of the Polish pope and the run-up to World Youth Day focused on how American Catholics were rejecting the Pope’s leadership on abortion, contraception, AIDS, you name it. They predicted that finally the Pope had made a bad decision in returning to the US and he would be greeted by nothing but protestors to his policies and dissent among the young. The trouble was that hard as they tried in Denver to find and interview a young attendee at WYD 93 to back up their claims of dissent, they failed. One young person after another stopped by a TV cameraperson or reporter and simply said something to the effect, “I love this Pope.” And the love affair continued.

At the conclusion of their longer than expected meeting, I am introduced to the President by the Holy Father

Shepherd One, the name I had given to the Secret Service in 1979 for the Pope’s plane arrived from Rome in Denver on a spectacular afternoon in August with President and Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea waiting on the tarmac. After the airport arrival, the Holy Father and President Clinton went separately to Regis College for a private meeting that was supposed to last only thirty minutes. At the end of the time set aside, Father Roberto Tucci, SJ and I went to the door where the Pope and President were meeting, opened it slightly only to have the Pope signal that he wanted more time with the young President. At forty five minutes they still had not emerged and finally Father Tucci sent Monsignor Dziwisz, the pope’s personal secretary and now a Cardinal, in to remind both that 70,000 young people were waiting at mile high stadium to welcome the Pope. Pictures were taken, gifts exchanged, and farewells shared and the mile-high World Youth Day was underway.

After the welcome ceremony the Holy Father took an unusual day off. Taking the Presidential helicopter, Marine One, he flew up into the east range of the Rockies and spent a whole day, mostly alone, walking in the forest (the Secret Service never far away but discreetly out of sight), praying, resting, gathering his strength for the World Youth Day activities which would follow. There were very few of our staff present with him and his closest staff that day and I know he loved the beauty of the American Rocky Mountains.

Young people were streaming into Denver by the hundreds of thousands (an estimated 550,000 attended the closing Mass) and their love of the Pope and their faith was infectious, about as infectious as the burning heat on the east slope of the Rockies on a hot summer afternoon. All those “doubting Thomases” in Rome and the US could not believe what they were seeing. Contrary to popular opinion, World Youth Day 1993 in the U.S. was on its way to being a great success. And did John Paul connect with the young people or not? It was simply amazing. I was so proud of Father (he was personally made a Monsignor in the Cathedral sacristy in Denver by the Pope in front of his parents) Schnurr and his whole group for planning and staging what will probably long be remembered as one of the most successful gatherings of young people certainly in this hemisphere and/or continent and this great Pope in a long time. There have indeed been larger crowds, especially in Europe and the Philippines and some South American countries but again it is easier for the youth to gather in those places. What we did so impressed Pope John Paul II that weeks after when we dined with him in Rome to review World Youth Day, he ordered his assistant to give Archbishop Keeler, the President, Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland, the Vice-President, Monsignor Schnurr and myself four gold chalices, usually gifts to host bishops only. Monsignor Dziwisz presented them to us in the presence of the pope and four times said in Italian, molto prezioso which translates into “you had better not lose these!” The Holy Father still had Denver and our young people clearly on his mind and in his memory.

As he is beatified this Sunday, my mind will largely be on how effective he was with young people. They loved him. And even in his later, infirm and enfeebled years, they still loved him. Sometime after canonization, some Pope will declare John Paul a patron saint of something or other. I shall being praying that he might be declared the patron of young people. I shall never see the likes of him again in the brief time I have left and I doubt if the Church will for sometime either. I am happy that our country could make him so happy on that occasion and this time when he boarded an American Airlines 767 for home and Rome, with my own term as General Secretary drawing near an end, I thought for sure I was finished with papal trips. The Holy Father himself would refer to me as his “travel agent” in the U.S. There was now very personal recognition and a growing bond between us. Tomorrow I shall recall moments with Blessed John Paul II while I was serving as General Secretary, then the fifth installment will be reflections of our time together after he named me bishop and finally, some thoughts on his forthcoming beatification.



Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

The second visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States was radically different in many ways from the first. President Ronald Reagan had invited the Pope to make a pastoral visit this time and the United Nations was not involved. Since the last visit in 1979 both the Pope and the President were survivors of assassination attempts and so security concerns were ratcheted up significantly. More people and dioceses wanted the Pope even though the cost to the host diocese ran at least three million dollars a day and with nine years in office behind him, every US Church agency wanted a piece of the action. Disney World wanted him desperately for a meeting with the youth of the world at EPCOT (making me one of the few Floridians to ever say “no” to Disney and live to tell of it).

In Rome my dear friend Archbishop Marcinkus had been replaced by a new team of papal advance members led by the Jesuit head of Vatican Radio, Father Roberto Tucci, SJ who is now a cardinal. Assisting him were two of the finest men one would wish to work with, Monsignor Emil Tscherrig from the Secretariat of State and Dr. Alberto Gasbari from Vatican Radio. But John Paul remained the same, just a little older. There were two preparatory meetings with him, which included lunch in his apartment, and a meeting of all the host bishops and the archbishops of the United States with him in Rome in advance of the meeting. Tensions were running somewhat high as agendas were beginning to emerge in the United States. In the visit of 1979, only an address by Sister Theresa Kane, the head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had raised some concerns but I am certain that the Pope did not hear her. Little known to anyone at the time was that the young pope was near deaf in one ear and the sound in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was not advantageous for him to hear. Almost every picture ever taken with him never shows him looking at the person but turned so he could hear with his good ear.

But it seemed in 1987 everyone wanted an opportunity to speak to him, hoping to elicit a favorable response. So Monsignor Frank McNulty of Newark addressed him on behalf of priests in Miami, Donna Hanson, a lay woman from Spokane, Washington addressed him in San Francisco, Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop Quinn, Archbishop Pilarczyk and Archbishop Weakland addressed him in Los Angeles, the National Catholic Education Association, the Catholic Health Association, and many others spoke their concerns. The Holy Father always had a prepared response as those writing for him had advance looks at the texts.

The Native American Blessing with an Eagle's Feather

Three things gave him special energy in this visit. Although earlier in the day for the first and only time in his entire pontificate his Mass was interrupted and rained out in Miami, he was at his best that day in Columbia, South Carolina on the campus of that state’s University. He could lot believe the tens of thousands of students in a state he knew to be 1% Catholic would gather on the quadrangle and cheer for him and remain while he conducted a ninety minute ecumenical and interreligious exchange with religious leaders from throughout the United States. There were as many students still there when he exited as when he went in and he commented to me, “These young people, they are not Catholic?”  Later he and Billy Graham were to share the stage in the football stadium for a truly ecumenical prayer service, which was frowned upon by some of those travelling with him from Rome.

He also enjoyed a meeting with Native Americans in Phoenix, which included their ritual blessing with an eagle feather, also causing some alacrity with his travelling party that a largely pagan sign would be used with him but something, which clearly he enjoyed.

The Holy Father Meeting Young People at the Superdome

And as in 1979 at Madison Square Garden, in 1987 the meeting with the young people of New Orleans and elsewhere who would fill the vast Superdome brought him special happiness. He was more comfortable and at ease with kids than with bishops by far. Their spontaneous response to his obvious thrill of being with them and their love for him drew them closer to him always.

Popes carry burdens of soul, which few others have to carry. The 1987 visit was right when the AIDS pandemic was spreading and becoming better known in the U.S. Church teaching on condom use and abstinence were not well received in many quarters and to those involved in AIDS ministry and even to those suffering from the disease, the Church in general and the Pope especially seemed insensitive, uncaring, even cruel. When at the old Serra Mission in San Francisco at a prayer service for those with AIDS the pope picked up a child with aids and hugged an adult and embraced him, hearts melted and compassion marked the Gospel. It was quite a moment for me, one that I had helped arrange with the assistance of my Roman colleagues but somewhat looked askance at by others.

John Paul II arrived in Miami with a long and warm meeting between two men nearly killed by an assassin’s bullet and it ended with Vice-President George H. W. Bush offering farewell remarks in Detroit, a city added at the insistence of Archbishop Edmund Szoka which required flying back two thirds of the way across the U.S. and then West again into the Northwest Territory to Fort Simpson in Canada to keep a date he had to cancel several years prior due to fog precluding the landing of his plane at that time. The Holy Father was clearly weakened by his horrible moment with history and not exactly the same as in 1979 but he kept a hectic daily schedule nonetheless and there was always that time for meditation and prayer. Bone tired at midday, on this trip with a scheduled brief rest he would recover well enough to keep a schedule that would kill me at his age, drawing strength from inside himself and at prayer, never wishing to disappoint anyone, and renewed by the adulation of the masses of people who came to pray, listen and reflect with him, especially the young. On both occasions he was impressed with the vitality of the Church in the United States and liked the manner in which we prayed. He mentioned this to the officers and I after his trip in the Fall of 1987 at lunch with him in Rome. For this trip I asked Bishop Larkin if I could have the services of Father John Tapp to assist essentially in the care and feeding of the papal entourage who came with the Pope from Rome and he had his hands full. Also I hired a young lay man from Indiana to work for a year and a half with the Secret Service and the USCC Communications office in arranging for the needs of the local and traveling press (about 300 travelled with us on the full ten day trip). His name was Paul Etienne and he is now the Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

On the TWA 747 in Detroit I climbed the steps once again. This time he was ready for me having been reminded by someone of my quip in Washington in 1979 that he could come back but not too soon. He gave me that half smile and said, “Father, will I be welcome again?” Off he went to Fort Simpson and my life returned to normal.