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It is time to play a Wild Card! Every now and then, a book that I have chosen to read is going to pop up as a FIRST Wild Card Tour. Get dealt into the game! (Just click the button!) Wild Card Tours feature an author and his/her book's FIRST chapter!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and his/her book:
FaithWords (September 10, 2008
Caroline Pigozzi studied in Italy and New York, eventually becoming an international reporter for Paris Match magazine. She has interviewed King Juan Carlos of Spain and Elisabeth II in addition to her visits and travels with Pope John Paul II. Pigozzi received the Vermeil Medal of the Académie Française for this book. Pigozza is the mother of two daughters and lives in France.
List Price: $21.99
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: FaithWords (September 10, 2008)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
ONE EVENING, JOHN PAUL II WAS DUE TO LEAVE the Hôtel de Ville dock in Paris aboard a bateau-mouche riverboat on his way to the Nunciature. I was then living in an attic apartment opposite the Hôtel de Ville on the Quai aux Fleurs. It was June 1980, and the Pope was in Paris on a pastoral trip. A few hours before the Holy Father’s appearance, a squad of marksmen armed with binoculars and telescopic-sight rifles invaded my apartment. A ballistics specialist accompanied members of the anti-terrorist squad, who were hooded and clad in midnight-blue coveralls. It was feared that the jubilant city of Paris could be the scene of an assassination attempt on the Eastern European Pope. I was 28 years old, and the event revived my curiosity and passion for the history of the Roman Church, a subject that I was already fascinated with when I was a pupil at the Dominican convent in the Via Cassia. I was now getting closer to Saint Peter’s Square . . .
I had once met a Supreme Pontiff during an audience granted to junior and senior pupils. Hieratic and majestic, Paul VI corresponded perfectly to the holy image that a young girl from an austere boarding school would have of the Patriarch of the West. I will never forget that extraordinary morning. The Vatican seemed to me so mysterious, especially when, a few weeks later, Mother Superior Marie Johannès sent me with a group of other pupils to represent our establishment at Saint-Louis-des-Français, the French national church in Rome, at a mass celebrated by Cardinal Tisserant. She inspected our dark-colored uniforms and checked that we had remembered our black mantillas before telling us in an authoritative tone that she counted on us to do credit to our institution, since the Frenchman who was celebrating mass was the senior member of the Sacred College—in other words, the second most important person at the Vatican after the Pope. In addition to his prestigious post, this eminent native of the Lorraine region had an imposing air, a serious gaze and a gray beard trimmed in the style of a Renaissance cardinal, in short, a panache that struck me from the very first. When I saw him arrive in his scarlet cape, his pectoral cross attached to a heavy gold chain, his right hand bearing an Episcopal ring set with a gleaming purple amethyst that covered a third of his finger, I was, then and forever after, intrigued and dazzled by the princes of the Church and everything to do with them.
Since then, and having become a journalist, I have been haunted endlessly by the desire to penetrate the mysteries and life of the Vatican and the Pope, just as others dream of gaining access to the Kremlin or the White House. But on that day back in 1980 in Paris, I vowed I would force open the doors of Saint Peter’s. I was driven by passion and by the challenge it represented: by passion, since the Pope who had set the Lutetia on fire was Slavic, and I myself, through my mother, had Slavic blood in my veins, and by the challenge it represented, because it seemed far from easy for a female journalist to approach Karol Wojtyla, the charismatic shepherd to more than 1 billion 71 million Catholics, or 17.2% of the planet’s population.
The idea of writing a report on the Holy Father—and, later on, a book—took firm root in my mind and stayed there. I thus spent many years, each time I found myself in Rome, going to Saint Peter’s Square to breathe in the air of the Vatican while trying to catch sight of the Pope during the Sunday Angelus. At midday, I was blessed along with the crowd of pilgrims and tourists, all applauding and chanting “Viva il papa!” before leaving once again, filled with emotion and enthusiasm. His powerful voice invariably resonated in me. I was deeply moved, beyond the realm of words, and I told myself that it would bring me luck and that the happy day would come when I would finally bring my plan to fruition—although, in reality, this challenge seemed to be insurmountable, demanding as it did a fund of patience, diplomacy and persistence. I did finally succeed, and, excluding the birth of my two daughters, Marina and Cosima, nothing else has given me as much happiness as coming into such close contact with John Paul II. Thanks to this Pope, I enjoyed many years’ worth of exceptional moments and marvelous discussions with him and his close entourage, first within the Vatican and then in the intimacy of his private apartments, where he received me on several occasions. I also accompanied him as a reporter during his pastoral visits throughout the world. It is thanks to him that I discovered the real meaning of the famous words that had, in my eyes, long been an abstract concept from my childhood catechism: “Go forth and teach all nations.” I was also able, sadly, to observe the slow transformation of his triumphant apostolate into a long, hard, sorrowful road.
Outside of his close colleagues and friends, who encouraged me and helped me to appreciate him, few people have had the chance to share the things I saw and learned—unforgettable moments of respite from an existence which, when the melancholy of journalism descends, continue to comfort me when I am assailed by the endless doubts and fears inherent to my profession. These memories, as moving as they are astonishing, allow me today to paint a faithful, frank portrait of John Paul II in his daily life without, I hope, allowing myself to be too carried away by my feelings.
The Vatican was, in principle, open to everyone, since every Wednesday the Pope gave a general audience to the faithful. But they observed him from afar: until 2000, some people could just about manage, by jostling and shoving, to touch his cassock as he passed through the rows, without, however, managing to talk to him. But I wanted more than that: I would never be content with the holy image and distant views of the Supreme Pontiff. My ambition was to read the story of his life. I did not want to merely skim the surface of the man in white; I dreamed of entering his mythical, secret universe. However, that universe, the Vatican, was a fortress, and over the centuries many imposing barriers, invisible gulfs and prohibitions have built up around the Popes.
During John Paul II’s era, the first barrier for a journalist was the director of the pressroom, Dottore Joaquin Navarro-Valls. This handsome Spaniard was a psychiatrist trained at America’s famed Harvard University, a former correspondent for Iberian newspapers and an influential member of Opus Dei, the powerful and highly structured international organization for Catholic propaganda created in Spain and comprising a secretive elite of laymen, priests and even cardinals whose official object is to attain holiness through work. With his psychiatrist’s reflexes, he analyzed every visitor and suspected French journalists in particular—a major drawback since Rousseau and Voltaire—of religious disrespect or even insolence; excluded from this suspicion were certain colleagues who kept him happy by taking such measures as giving their front page articles obliging titles like, “Navarro-Valls: a key man at the pontificate.” For the rest of us, he represented the unavoidable obstacle that French reporters had to overcome. Reaching him on the telephone was impossible for anyone he didn’t know. Élisabeth Fouquet Cucchia, his omnipresent, gruff French secretary (whose career in the Holy See press room began under Paul VI), was ruthlessly daunting in blocking access to him. And if, miracle of miracles, you did succeed in getting an interview, there was always a considerable waiting period—coincidentally, longer than the duration of your stay! The princes of the Church have, in any event, a relationship with time similar to the one they have with eternity. For example, when I asked for an audience in October 1999 with the new nuncio to Paris, Msgr. Fortunato Baldelli, the adroit papal ambassador in France, he suggested that I call back in October 2000 since his schedule was too full!
Another barrier that has historically hindered access to the Holy See is language. Cardinals and monsignori always express themselves in such a diplomatic fashion, with such subtle nuances and playful airs, that those not familiar with Machiavelli and Talleyrand are thrown off balance. Their manner is smooth, oblique, solemn and deceptively gentle, and even though they give the impression that they are whispering in Church Latin, they are in fact speaking Italian! Communication is therefore difficult for the barbaric foreigner. With no knowledge of the language, rites and rhythm of the life lived in this little world—holy and remote, traversing the centuries, confined to majestic, hushed palaces—it is almost impossible to penetrate this universe, in others words, to find some charitable soul who will initiate you into the secrets of the keys and locks that open the doors to Saint Peter’s.
With the Italian blood inherited from my father, maybe I was better equipped than many to infiltrate the heart of this strategic circle and decipher the codes that governed it, thanks to my childhood years with the Dominican nuns in the Via Cassia. In the library there, between missals bound in bottle green or burgundy and the Lives of the Saints, you could still find a weekly publication called Bernadette, l’illustré catholique des fillettes (Bernadette, the Catholic Illustrated Magazine for Girls). An efficient group of Dominicans ran a large religious boarding school whose pupils included Italian girls from the Black Nobility—the Roman aristocracy that has produced so many Popes and palaces—as well as a handful of French girls and many young daughters of those who moved in the glittering cosmopolitan and diplomatic circles. These included the Habisht girls, Polish twins whose parents were friends of Msgr. Wojtyla and with whom he occasionally stayed in Piazza Callisto when he was in Rome. My chaplain and frequent confidant was Father Poupard, who lived at Saint-Do and then worked at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State. He afterwards became rector of the Catholic Institute of Paris, then president of the Pontifical Council, and finally minister of culture under John Paul II, a post he retained throughout the papacy. He took a liking to me because of my insatiable curiosity about the mysteries of that seat of power where he carried out his ministry. He was fond of describing the inner workings of the place to me, revealing its secrets, both major and minor, with sparkling eyes and precise words. He had arrived there as a young priest under John XXIII, and knew everything there was to know, just like an influential member of an important ministerial cabinet. Entranced by his captivating tales, I dreamed of becoming a journalist so that I could penetrate even further into this wonderfully enigmatic world, and he encouraged me to pursue my ambitious goals.
The third obstacle to overcome was the almost insurmountable Polish barrier. It is no criticism of Karol Wojtyla to say that he surrounded himself with his compatriots: councilors, private secretaries, and even the humble nuns who served him all came from his country. Since their names were not only unpronounceable but also extravagantly spelled, it was impossible to make the impatient, suspicious nuns on the switchboard understand whom one wished to talk to. The Pope’s private secretary, to take one example, was called Dziwisz, a name that, to a French person, resembled something like a sneeze. And the good nuns were inflexible and rather distrustful, jealously protective of “their” Holy Father.
When, thanks to my friendship with Cardinal Poupard, I was able to attend innumerable audiences, solemn masses and blessings given by John Paul II in order to try and understand how his entourage functioned by closely observing the ceremonies, I was intrigued to see Karol Wojtyla constantly looking at two people who were always close to him: Msgr. Stanislaw Dziwisz and his second secretary, Msgr. Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, two Poles who were never more than a few meters away from him. And yet the Holy Father was seemingly surrounded by high-ranking prelates of the curia, including a good many Italians. In reality, as one of his Italian colleagues confided to me later, the Pope was only really close to his intimate friends and colleagues, almost all Polish, and a few intellectuals he liked to philosophize with. He shared the surprising characteristic of lacking a court and courtiers with King Juan Carlos, whom I observed minutely when I followed him for a month for Paris Match; they both preferred their direct entourage to comprise only those they liked, respected professionally and held in deep affection.
Never averting my gaze from the Supreme Pontiff during all of these religious ceremonies, which often lasted hours at a time, I suddenly noticed, from barely perceptible signs, that he must have been a little bored by the protocol, not only because it was tedious in itself, but because it threatened to keep those near and dear to him at a distance. That is when I realized that, to approach His Holiness, I had to play the Polish card, unluckily the hardest card of them all.
One last obstacle remained, possibly to my eyes the most troublesome: the Vatican was, and still is, a male universe. Even the Virgin Mary would feel ill at ease in this overwhelmingly masculine environment, which only two laywomen in 26 years had miraculously succeeded in invading: Lucienne Sallé, research assistant at the Pontifical Council for the Laity and also a former Dominican pupil, who joined the Council in March 1977 as deputy assistant secretary; and American law professor Mary Ann Glendon, who in March 2004 became president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
This shortage of women was not evidently the result of misogyny, per se; these holy men simply have very little contact with the feminine world, apart from the nuns assigned to such secondary tasks as domestic services, cooking, housework, sewing and staffing the switchboard. The ultimate promotion for a nun might be to work as a secretary or, even better, a restorer of old tapestries, a translator or an archivist, like Sister Mary Epiphany, or even—an extraordinary privilege—to be put in charge of running the pontifical sacristy, like Sisters Rita, Adelaida and Elivra, who ironed John Paul II’s liturgical vestments to the sounds of Radio Vatican. These humble, self-effacing women moved quietly through the long marble corridors of the Vatican like mice, without ever making their voices heard. They were all, of course, clad in nuns’ habits, veiled, carrying large moleskin bags and shod in sensible nun’s shoes.
At the time, there were almost no female journalists accredited to the Holy See. The cardinals and monsignori had nothing against me: they simply could not understand what I was doing in their closed universe. They took me for a kind of pious laywoman, a deadly-dull diehard, or a possible affiliate of the Association of Consecrated Virgins or of the Society of Christ the King, members of which are not nuns but laywomen who have taken vows of chastity and poverty, something like a parallel sisterhood of nuns. They were also disconcerted that I was addressing them: in the Vatican, a nun modestly lowers her gaze, does not speak and is not spoken to—though she may perhaps be smiled at. They were likewise intrigued because, so as not to attract attention to myself, I always wore a black, shapeless, cowl-like garment with a little white collar, opaque tights and flat shoes, but no silver wedding ring—after all, I was not wedded to God, which is why I also wore make-up. I did not want to be put in the same category as the women who were part of the Vatican’s religious personnel. The curious thing is that any woman who finds herself before the prelates of the Roman curia is generally in an extreme situation. She is either ignored, as though she were part of the furniture, or she arouses the liveliest curiosity, like some rare breed, and finds herself drawn into incredibly long conversations. In any event, the churchmen’s attitude toward women remains irrational. Simple conversations in a friendly and detached tone—what we would call small talk—are out of the question. It must be said that these gentlemen are so astute, so cultivated, their minds so keen, that even the most minor conversations with them can never be banal or superficial. In truth, this did not strike me, as it may well have done others, as an insurmountable obstacle—for which I had my past to thank, a past where, lulled by the sound of hymns plus interminable years of Latin, I learned to talk to God and his servants with the simplicity of a young girl familiar with the psalms, her rosary and Gregorian chants. I was also perfectly capable of crossing myself with holy water and genuflecting at the right moment. I had learned how to address a mother superior, an abbot or a confessor, and that one should never take a cardinal’s hand but rather kiss his Episcopal ring respectfully, and that you should call him Eminence and on no account Excellence like a bishop.
In the Vatican, I was neither awkward nor intimidated, and people knew it. And it is possible that my modest attitude did not frighten those dignified figures decked out in mauve and purple, usually so quick to slip away with a quick blessing.
When the Paris Match news editor, Patrick Jarnoux, suggested in December 1995 that I write a feature on the Vatican because I spoke Italian, I accepted immediately, brimming with enthusiasm, taking the offer as a gift from the heavens. And what a privilege to actually be sent there on Christmas Day! I had long been on the lookout for just such an opportunity as this. Before joining Paris Match, I had spent 13 years working at a major magazine staffed by devout writers and a boss who had just rediscovered God, and where John Paul II was the private property of André Frossard. Reporters dreamed of approaching John Paul II and had absolutely no intention of granting this (rare) privilege to a less experienced journalist than themselves, and a woman at that!
In Rome that morning, the heavens were on my side as I called up someone that destiny had already put in my path: Paul Poupard. It was just after the Pope had been struck down by an attack of dizziness during the traditional urbi et orbi blessing, which was broadcast worldwide. Cardinal Poupard was concise on the telephone: in fact, everyone in the Vatican distrusted the telephone, thanks to the days when some nuns on the Holy See switchboard under Pius XII used to listen to conversations on behalf of their governor, Cardinal Canali. Cardinal Poupard’s words were brief but his tone reassuring: “Come and see me at home at six this evening.”
The cardinal lived in the working class area of Trastevere, above the Tiber, in the San Callisto palace, an extra-mural Vatican enclave. Behind this ancient palace, overlooking the Piazza Santa Maria di Trastevere, a number of large, modern, ochre-colored buildings surrounded a courtyard. On the third floor, from where one can admire the cupola of Saint Peter’s, live several eminent members of the Holy See. When I left the elevator, I found myself facing a long corridor open to the sky and lined on both left and right with high, varnished doors, all identical. Nobody was in sight to tell me where to go, and not a sound could be heard other than the occasional muffled toll of a neighboring church’s bells. No Swiss Guard appeared to guide me around this solemn, soothing, almost monastic place. Finding Cardinal Poupard’s apartment was the first test. I was on the point of losing heart when I noticed a gleaming copper plaque, to the left of a heavy oak door, engraved with the name Cardinal Etchegaray. It was not him I was looking for, even if I had read his book (whose title—J’avance comme un âne [I go forward like a donkey]—had struck me), but the sight encouraged me to venture farther. I took a few more steps, and finally saw “Cardinal Poupard” on an identical plaque. Feeling anxious, I pressed the copper bell nervously.
As my former chaplain received me at his door with a broad smile, his neighbor, Msgr. De Nicolò, was watering his many plants on the landing. Having congratulated him on his green fingers, the cardinal introduced me; always happy to bestow a compliment, and no doubt wishing to avoid any misunderstanding on the subject of our meeting, he therefore told him, “This is one of my brilliant former students at Saint-Do. She has come to visit me and give me a book.” Even if prelates can be suspicious of each other, there was nothing unusual at this time of the year in my sparing a kindly thought for a respected former teacher. Msgr. De Nicolò immediately proved remarkably affable, and his trust in me later on was extremely precious, since he was the regent of the Papal Household and thus one of the organizers of pontifical ceremonies. How could I not believe that the heavens were with me and I was guided by God that day, or at least by one of his angels? Thanks to a chain of unanticipated circumstances, I had finally gotten a toe in the door of the Vatican fortress.
After prayers in Cardinal Poupard’s small private chapel, where we were joined by Sister Marie Béatrice and Sister Claire Marie, two French nuns who looked after him, I noticed to the left of the oratory, in a corridor, above a door, the cardinal’s coat of arms: a red hat from which hung, on either side of the shield, two cords and 30 tassels in the same color, 15 on each side, with a small yellow boat at sail on an azure sea in the middle, and the Augustinian motto inscribed below: “For you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian.” “My coat of arms, presented to me by the Franciscans of Naples,” explained the cardinal, giving me a tiny glimpse into his universe. This was the first confidence he entrusted me with. My former chaplain then led me to his huge library, where some 15,000 works were meticulously archived. Once there, he did not beat around the bush, and told me, with the same frankness he had always used in the past: “There is no way for me to pick up the telephone and ask Msgr. Dziwisz for an interview with His Holiness for you and your photographer. It has never been done before. However, what I can do is work diplomatically toward you being able to approach the Holy Father’s entourage; it would then be up to you to seize any opportunity that came along.” What this meant in reality was that he was giving me an unexpected chance to break through the great barrier that the Polish circle represented. It would then be up to me to succeed in obtaining a certificate of good conduct—the prelude, as it were, to the precious pass that would grant me entry to the most secret, closed-off place on earth.
It was a highly perilous enterprise, since, if my plan failed, there would never be another way in. I could certainly never hope to gain the favor of Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who would always bear me a grudge for having casually gone over his head. Pinning me with his bright and determined gaze behind unadorned glasses, the cardinal concluded: “I will have you invited to all John Paul II’s New Year’s ceremonies. I will also arrange for you to be placed close to the front row, discreetly, on the right. After that, you will have to manage on your own.”
I quickly understood his message. My past and my experience as a political journalist helped me, and maybe my feminine intuition as well. Surmounting the high walls of the Vatican was proving to be something of a detective game. Who was the most important policeman, the least distrustful papal gendarme? Who did I need to have on my side—the master of ceremonies in charge of all the others? The kindly Swiss Guard? The Pope’s close companion, whose attention I would have to catch? The trick would be to succeed in getting on the good side of some people without annoying others, and to be aware that, surreptitiously, people would be observing me coolly. I therefore could not make any mistakes in the liturgical actions or protocol that had to be respected.
At the end of six days of masses, offices, blessings and other celebrations, all those unsympathetic eyes were on me. Was she, like other journalists, going to start by getting annoyed, then become discouraged, and then trip up? My steadiness and silence saved me. Even when John Paul II visited a little suburban church to bless a delegation of road workers, I was there. On the seventh day, Msgr. Dziwisz finally noticed me. On that memorable Sunday, he approached and spoke very politely to me: “I believe that you have come to write an article on the Holy Father? In six days you have surely been able to observe everything you needed to see . . . now you can go back to Paris in peace. You surely have enough information to write your article!”
The trap was sprung! I immediately retorted, politely but very firmly: “I am missing lots of things, the most essential element, in fact! What I would like is to follow His Holiness at close quarters in his daily and private life.” I knew from a Vatican gendarme that at six that very evening, the Pope was meant to be receiving some 40 Polish pilgrims in a private audience. I asked Msgr. Dziwisz, “Could I not attend the audience?” He paused for a minute, torn between astonishment that I knew about the invitation, and his inner feeling that, if I knew about it, I must be a well-informed journalist indeed. He then replied, joining his hands in a gesture of piety: “But you would understand nothing of their conversation!” I in turn replied, lowering my eyes: “I wouldn’t need a translation. I could read their words on their faces.” Then, gently, he took my hand, looked upon me benevolently and murmured: “Come back this evening.”
At the appointed hour, I presented myself with beating heart at the bronze door. Behind his light-colored wooden lectern, a vice-corporal in the Swiss Guard stopped me, asking me my name and that of whom I wished to see. I answered in the most natural possible fashion: “The Pope.” Looking suspicious, as I had no invitation, he checked by telephoning the second floor to see if I was really expected by the Supreme Pontiff. He then handed me over to a second guard, who led me up the monumental staircase. There a haughty usher escorted me to the stately Consistory Hall, a flamboyant room of intimidating proportions, harmonious frescos, magnificent tapestries and rare marble statues. Agitated, I waited alone for a few minutes until the arrival of the euphoric Poles dressed in black and white. We had to remain standing and to surround Karol Wojtyla at a distance. A little while later, he entered by one of the two doors at the back of the hall, blessed us all together, and then sat on his throne, as straight as it was simple. On his right was a cardinal, to his left a bishop and, a few meters away, a large bouquet of white lilies and yellow roses.
I then discovered a very different Supreme Pontiff from the one I had been seeing on television over the years. With his compatriots, he left his official persona behind, so transported with joy did he seem. He joked and laughed with them. That evening, I even heard him sing airs from his native land in their company. Msgr. Dziwisz had placed me at the end of the line of Poles. Everyone had to be presented to the Holy Father. When he approached me, Msgr. Dziwisz whispered in his ear: “This is a former pupil of Father Poupard’s at the Dominican convent in Via Cassia,” before adding kindly, “Mme. de Gaulle was also a pupil of the Dominicans.” This detail was the little extra piece of comfort I needed before such an intimidating moment in my life. John Paul II then took my hands in his and asked me: “Are you pleased with Rome?” I replied: “Very much so, Holy Father, I am dazzled by this décor and impressed by Your Holiness’ celebrations, but I would be even happier here if I could follow Your Holiness at close quarters to write a splendid article on His Holiness!” The Pope smiled at me, blessed me and walked away. Msgr. Dziwisz, who then took me to one side, murmured in a reassuring tone, “You will be called.” “But when?” “You will see. It is in God’s hands. In the meantime, may heaven bless you.”
I did not dare leave my hotel all the next day—although I was very tempted by the sales at the luxury boutiques on the Via Conditto, on the corner near where I was staying. The day after, at 10:45 a.m. precisely, the telephone rang. “Hello? This is Msgr. Dziwisz. His Holiness will receive you at midday in his private apartments on the third floor.” I was so astounded that I made the caller repeat his words—I found it almost impossible to believe them.
An hour and a half later, along with Jean-Claude Deutsch, one of the top photographers at our paper, I joined John Paul II at the heart of his apartments. The Holy Father welcomed us in his private office. He gave us a piercing look, and those moments when we were, for the first time, alone with him seemed to me an eternity. I was immediately struck by the serenity that emanated from his radiant face. We bowed low before him, full of emotion. I kissed his gold ring without really daring to look at his hand. The Holy Father smiled at me. I had tears in my eyes. Msgr. Dziwisz motioned to the photographer to begin his work. He hesitated a few minutes. The Pope then asked him in perfect French, “Is there perhaps a lighting problem? Would you like me to move closer to the window, or maybe further away from it? Would you like me to move back a little?” He was well aware that his white chasuble and capelet were hard to see against the light. This spontaneity and simplicity from the most famous man on the planet, who appeared to have all the time in the world for us, came as something of a surprise.
After the photo session, which lasted a good 20 minutes, the Holy Father blessed us. We then bowed low once more and thanked him profusely before he moved away. At that exact moment Jean-Claude noticed that there was no photo of the Pope at his desk. “Get him back immediately!” he cried out to me. “That’s impossible, he blessed us and he’s gone,” I said. It did indeed seem to me unthinkable to run after the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church down the corridor of his own apartment. I still ask myself today how Msgr. Dziwisz, who overheard snatches of our conversation, managed to catch up with the Pope and talk to him. Nevertheless, here was John Paul II, returning to our side and agreeing to pose again in a session that lasted for quite a while. He was infinitely accommodating in his behavior toward us, complying with all our demands, always governed by simplicity.
And that was how my second meeting with John Paul II turned out. When he smiled at me that day, I instinctively understood that I was beginning to win his respect, which, over the years, evolved into trust, a privilege that allows me today to share with you the private existence of this extraordinary Pope, a unique experience as recounted in the pages of this book.
Copyright © 2000, 2005 by Nils editions, Paris