Opinion

The pope gave this non-Catholic strength

I am a Lutheran, yet for 21 years, I carried in my wallet a dime-sized gold and silver medal with Pope John Paul II’s face on it, which was blessed by him as I stood in St. Peter’s square with hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims in 1983.

Where I lost it last year I do not know. I kept it in a snap pocket in my wallet with health and identity cards, and it was during the frantic goings-on of my husband’s heart attack at home in January with frequent use of those cards that it vanished.

With all that’s happened since, I still feel the loss as if some divine protection has been taken from me. I can only hope someone found the medal and it is giving them that same sense of security.

I never really wanted to go to Rome in the first place, but it was one of the stops on the Washington State Trade Commission my husband and I were invited to make, along with about 40 other Washingtonians led by then-Lt. Gov. John Cherberg. Yes, we paid our own way.

Several of us decided to leave the mission there and spend a few extra days in Rome and were fortunate enough to be there when Pope John Paul II held his weekly Friday audience in St. Peter’s Square.

The audience began at 11 a.m. and our tour bus was late, but not to worry, our Italian tour guide assured us, the pope had great staying power and usually kept it up until well after 1 p.m.

When we arrived, the square was already filled with people, yet bus after bus arrived discharging more by the score. Hawkers went through the crowd selling medals and rosaries, which were cheaper than what was sold in the nearby store run by the Vatican and to which our guide steered us.

In that store, everything was expensive, including having to pay 20 lira — about 20 cents — to use the toilet.

“Take your medals and rosaries outside and the pope will bless them,” said our guide. “Now you don’t have to hold them up like so many people do, he can bless through leather pocketbooks, clothes and everything. Now go on out and get your blessing.”

I’m a Lutheran, I said. “Well, it won’t hurt you,” she snapped.

She also warned all of us to hold tight to our pocketbooks and wallets. “Pickpockets come here from all over the the world,” she said. “They can steal the socks off your feet. I’ve never had one of the people on my tour lose anything, but a thief got the gold watch off my arm. Me, a guide.”

I got some medals for Catholic friends and went out to join the crowd. Down front there was a raised platform with a roof on it. In the center sat Pope John Paul II, a large bulk in white robes. Crimson-robed assistants sat with him or came and went as the audience went on. The pope spoke and sang in several languages, his voice booming out over the others.

He was so vulnerable, I thought, eyeing all the rooftops nearby where someone with a rifle could complete the 1981 assassination attempt of Turk Ali Agca. The white robes made a perfect bull’s eye. Anyway, the pope finished his audience and vanished in a sea of red robes and police, and all the tourist buses loaded up and serpentined through narrow streets back to the city center.

Much has been made in the media of the pope as a catalyst in the fall of Communism. But he dealt with that himself in his 1994 book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” which I have, in which he responds in writing to questions from journalist Vittorio Messori on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of his papacy (in October, 1993.)

Asked, “Was God at work in the fall of Communism?” the Holy Father responded, in part, with this:

“... It would be simplistic to say that Divine Providence caused the fall of Communism. In a certain sense Communism as a system fell by itself. It fell as a consequence of its own mistakes and abuses. It proved to be a medicine more dangerous than the disease itself. It did not bring about true social reform, yet it did become a powerful threat and challenge to the entire world. But it fell by itself, because of its own inherent weakness.”

Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.

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