January 13, 2017

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

My first visits as a journalist with St. Pope John Paul II

John F. FinkFriends have encouraged me to write some columns about some of my experiences during my 69 years of working for the Catholic press. I thought I’d start with my time with St. Pope John Paul II.

In 1979, I was president and publisher of the Catholic publishing company Our Sunday Visitor (OSV), and also president of the International Federation of Catholic Press Associations. We scheduled a conference of the federation for Dublin, and it turned out that we were there at the same time as Pope John Paul II

was making his first visit to the United States, stopping in Ireland on the way.

The Archbishop of Dublin had a reception for us the day before the pope’s arrival, and he couldn’t have been more gracious. More than that, he gave us front row seats at the Mass the pope was going to celebrate in Phoenix Park.

That Mass was some event! An estimated 1 million people were in the park to see the pope, and I had never seen so many people in one place before. The pope’s plane arrived and flew low over the park before landing. The people went wild.

After the Mass, we were bused to the archbishop’s home, where the pope was staying. After dinner, he came out to meet the press, giving us a little homily but not answering questions.

The pope’s itinerary took him to New York and then to Washington. I had received an invitation to the White House while the pope was there to visit President Jimmy Carter, so my wife Marie and I flew back to Washington. However, that White House reception for the pope was not very intimate.

The most intimate visit Marie and I had with him was in March of 1980. During the pope’s visit to America, Our Sunday Visitor went all out to cover the trip. We had reporters and photographers wherever he went. We recorded his addresses, used some of the music from Dave Brubeck’s Mass “To Hope” as background, and got actress Helen Hayes to introduce the record we produced. We also published the pope’s talks in our quarterly The Pope Speaks, and we published a special book with numerous photos of the visit.

I asked for an audience with the pope to present samples of all this material, and the audience was granted. The pope received all the material we brought and was very friendly, although, I have to add, not nearly as warm and interested as Blessed Pope Paul VI had been when we met with him.

Prior to our meeting, Marie had bought about a zillion rosaries for the pope to bless and had them in a big white plastic bag. Suddenly the pope said, “The rosaries.” Marie, who had stayed in the background while I was explaining OSV’s publications to the pope, came forward quickly, wondering how the pope knew that she had rosaries to be blessed. But it turned out that the pope was calling to one of his assistants to bring rosaries to give to us.

Next week: Some other visits with John Paul II. †

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