January 27, 2017

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Hob-nobbing with Hollywood celebrities and Pope John Paul II

John F. FinkIn 1987, when Pope John Paul II visited the United States, he met with members of the media in Los Angeles. Most of the people present were Hollywood stars or otherwise connected with movies or television, but 10 members of the Catholic press were invited, and I was fortunate to be one of them.

It was great fun to hob-nob with people like Bob Hope, Loretta Young, Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell and many others both before the audience and even more during the reception after the pope left.

During the pope’s speech, I was seated behind Phil Donahue and his wife, Marlo Thomas. When the pope finished and started to leave, they crashed through the crowd to try to shake hands with him, as did many others. It was interesting to see the stars give the kind of attention to the pope that they themselves received from their fans.

Still another audience with Pope John Paul occurred when Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein received a pallium in 1993. The pallium is what archbishops wear around their necks to signify their authority over an archdiocese.

Naturally, we had front-row seats for the ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica. Then, in the evening, the entourages of the archbishops who had received the palliums were given audiences with the pope. This time the pope simply moved down the lines, greeting each of us and giving us a rosary. That was the occasion when I got my second rosary from Pope John Paul.

One of my best trips to Rome was in March 1996. It was organized by the Catholic Press Association with the cooperation of Archbishop John P. Foley, then-president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. We had briefing meetings with members of the Roman Curia as well as a reception at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

At a Mass and dinner at North American College’s Casa Santa Maria, my wife Marie and I got to know Ray Flynn, the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See at the time, and his wife Catherine. She was our hostess at the reception at the embassy later in the week.

The Mass at Casa Santa Maria was a memorial Mass for Cardinal John J. Krol, who died a few days before our arrival in Rome. Cardinal Edmund Szoka, president of the Prefecture of the Economic Affairs of the Holy See, was the principal celebrant of the Mass. Cardinal Szoka, the former Archbishop of Detroit, was credited with turning the Vatican’s finances around.

During the reception prior to the dinner that night, I had a chance to talk with Cardinal Szoka. He remembered an interview I had with him when I was in Rome at the time Archbishop Buechlein received his pallium. He told me that he liked the column I wrote about that interview, something he had already told me in a letter. He said furthermore that it was rare for journalists who wrote about Vatican finances to get the facts straight and I had done so.

Cardinal Szoka was one of those who gave us a thorough briefing the next day. †

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