My wife, Susan and I had the privilege of meeting the Blessed Pope John Paul, a number of times over the years of his Pontificate. I first met him very soon after he was elected, when I attended a general audience in Rome. I was fortunate to catch his eye and he came over and took my hand and I felt extraordinary warmth as he made eye contact with me. What struck me at the time was the feeling that for a short time I had his undivided attention.
Throughout the years on every occasion that we had the privilege of meeting him, albeit not for very long, we had a sense that his feelings for us were those of affection as I am sure everyone who met him felt, in the way of his greeting. On one occasion for the whole time we were together talking about our family, MaterCare and Newfoundland the Holy Father held Susan’s hand and her elbow and she was speechless!
As the years went by, one could see the deterioration in his physical health, but in spite of that, he always maintained his great sense of humour. One another occasion at a medical meeting, , when the Holy Father had started to use a walking stick, after giving his talk, and his blessing, he left the audience hall. We got up to leave only to find that the Holy Father was standing in the door way waving his stick. He said in Italian “You’re all supposed to be doctors, why don’t you get rid of this thing!” One of the group responded “Sorry Holy Father, we are the wrong sort of doctor we are obstetricians and gynaecologists”. The comment caused him great amusement.
Blessed John Paul‘s other gift was his ability to speak to most people in their own language, which on many occasions would catch the individual off guard. On one occasion, a Japanese physician met with the Pope, and when he came back and sat down he appeared flustered. When he was asked why, the doctor said “the Pope has just told me something funny in Japanese!”
The last time I had the privilege of meeting him was at another audience of doctors in March of 2004. At that time he was very frail, and was wheeled into the audience hall on a mobile throne. However, he had his hands raised in greeting as if he wanted to embrace each one of us. He kept waving his arms until he became so tired they dropped to his side. His talk was read for him, but during that time he made eye contact seemingly with everybody in the room.
To have met a saint was an extraordinary privileged experience. I think that he had a special affection for doctors and nurses and so we have a very special intercessor in heaven.
Dr. Robert Walley
MaterCare International(originally written on May 1, 2011)