Do you remember what you were doing when you heard the news that John Paul II was shot? I was working for a US company in Mexico City when my desk phone rang: It was my mother from Dallas telling me that John Paul II had been shot in Rome.
It was an eerie feeling. A few weeks before I had received another call from her: “Reagan was shot” she said.
As with President Reagan, the early reports were confusing. There were unconfirmed stories that the Pope had been killed. I remember turning to a senior partner in the office and asking the obvious question: Has any Pope been killed before? No one knew the answer.
Thankfully, Pope John Paul II survived and went on to play a major role, along with President Reagan and PM Thatcher, in the fall of communism.
I always felt very close to John Paul II, from the moment that he was announced in 1978. My connection with the pontiff was rooted in our mutual experience of having lived through communism and knowing its ugly side. Of course, Pope John Paul II lived under the Nazis too. I always told my friends that John Paul II saw the two great evils of the 20th century, the Nazis and the communists.
Over the next 24 years, or until his graceful death in 2005, I always looked at John Paul II on TV and asked myself several questions: What if he had been killed that fateful day in 1981? How different would events in Poland had turned out? We all remember the reception that he got in Poland. Who would have made all of those trips to every corner of the world?
No one did it better than John Paul II!
Yes, we can see now that John Paul II made mistakes in how the “priest scandal” was addressed. It was a stain on his record. However, he still stands in my mind as one of the great figures of the 20th century, a man admired and loved by more than just Catholics.
It was many years ago but it still feels like yesterday when I heard my mom’s emotional voice on the phone.