I have come to dread interviews with Popes. I have from the beginning of the interviews decades ago. I generally read them anyway because, well, I have to, don’t I.
The recent book interview / conversation with Dominique Wolton released in French, however, has a tidbit that I find moving and precious. My friend Sam Gregg of Acton Institute tweeted it out (HERE). The tweet includes an image of text of an anecdote about how Pope St. John Paul II reclaimed and saved a fallen priest from despair, homelessness and alcoholism.
Here is my translation of what Pope Francis said:
On the Piazza Risorgimento [a square bordering the walls of Vatican City], there was a homeless Polish homeless man, often drunk. In his drunkenness he told the story that he had been a fellow seminarian and in the priesthood with John Paul II, and that afterwards he had left the priesthood. No one believed him. Someone reported this to John Paul II. And he said, “So ask him what his name is.” And it was true! “Get him to come.” [The man] was given a shower and was presented to the Pope. The Pope received him: “So how are you?!”, and he embraced him. He had, in short, abandoned the priesthood and had left with a woman. “But how are you?” And then, at a certain moment, John Paul II regarded at him. “My confessor was supposed to come today, but he did not come. Hear my confession.” “But how can I do that?” [the man responded]. “Yes, yes, I’m giving you the faculty.” And he got down on his knees and and made his confession. And later [the priest] ended up as chaplain of a hospital, doing good for the sick. An act of proximity and humility.
This is a powerful story.
It occurs to me that this story might in itself be a signal of grace for some priest who may be struggling right now. The arrival of this story in front your eyes could be a game changer.
I believe that Mary, Queen of the Clergy and Mother of Priests, truly watches over her sons. She provides for them even in the extreme moments.
Once upon a time, when I was heading into Rome on the train at zero-dark-hundred accompanied by a friend – in fact The Great Roman™ of legend and fame – who was going to serve my daily Mass in San Pietro, there was a commotion at the station platform after we pulled in. A man had thrown himself in front of the train. It was pretty awful. I crawled down off the platform and gave him, still twitching, extreme unction (I always carry an oil stock) and the Apostolic Benediction. (There were two other priests of the diocese who just stood there, so I went into action.)
The next day the bishop called me in and asked me to tell him what I had done. When I had finished, he told me that the man on the track was a fallen away priest, a Salesian, who finally succumbed to despair.
Mary provided a priest and the sacrament for him in his last moment. She cares.
Fathers, you never know who or what might come your way. Be ready. There are times when you have to take initiative. That moment – staring you in the face – might be pivotal, in a dramatic way.
And so I post this anecdote and end…
Mary, Queen of the Clergy, pray for us. Pray for our priests and religious. Obtain for us many more.