Saturday, August 1, 2009

When a Baptist meets the Pope

When I met the Pope

Much of the world is still mourning the passing of the John Paul II (1978-2005) who was the 265th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.
Over the course of my life I have known many men who were very intelligent and whose training had given them many benefits that often places them in roles far above the ordinary.

One such person was a surprise visit to one of the world’s renowned leaders.

My stay in Rome, Italy had been an eventful one visiting nearly every conceivable spot that was of historical interest to me. Then our guide announced that tomorrow was Ash Wednesday and everything in the city would shut down except she had been able to get permission to visit the Vatican and if we desired have an audience with the Pope.

Needless to say my friends and I were interested even though we were not Catholic. The next day came and we found ourselves in the middle of the famous St. Peters Square where thousands hear the Pope. Afterwards, we visited in the world’s largest church and then ushered beyond that area into a heavily secured building with Switzer guards dressed in uniforms designed by Michaelangelo a few hundred years ago.

The view within the Sistine Chapel and the museum was extremely interesting, but the excitement of seeing and hearing a famous man overshadowed everything we saw. Finally, we were told the time and permission to enter had arrived.

Moving quickly and in tight security we entered an auditorium where about 600 people were already seated. Many were praying, tears were evident, as I observed clergy dress of various design, but all obviously Roman Catholic. It was immediately evident to me how Protestant I was because my clergy dress was tourist casual.

We had just seated ourselves when everybody else stood hastily to their feet. Looking back toward the entrance, was our first view of Pope Paul VI, who served from 1963 until 1978, as he entered sitting on a throne type chair being carried above the shoulders of eight Switzers.

The reverence of the moment was embroiled by his presence. Mothers lifted little babies to be kissed and blessed by him as he was carried to the front.

On the stage his flowing white outer robe was removed and he was redressed with another garment for the pulpit where he would speak. The knowledge of the man was evident as he began to greet and welcome those in the auditorium, first the clergy, and then down the list in proper protocol. I thought he was speaking in Italian only, when our guide told us he is speaking in Spanish welcoming those from Spain. Now he is greeting in Slavic for those from Romania. Before he finished greeting the remaining, he had spoken fluently in more than ten languages as he welcomed all. Then it was repeated when he gave his address as well.

I left appreciating the wisdom of a man. I will never forget this unexpected event in my life. However, many times I have reflected on the moments there.

Leaders, whether great or small, are men who will live and die. Some from poor health or accident, but all will depart.

Today, I am more and more aware that it takes a knowledge of Jesus Christ and His atonement for our sins, who said, "I am come that you may have life."

If every nation in its own tongue could hear this message from the Lord himself.

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