April 2, 2005
The Rev. Joe Hale
A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Joe Hale*
the afternoon of his first large public appearance as pope, on Oct. 22,
1978, before several hundred thousand people in St. Peter’s Square—an
occasion viewed on live television worldwide—to a visit in the Vatican
in early March 2003, I was privileged to be with Pope John Paul II on at
least two dozen separate occasions.
day his pontificate was launched in 1978, I was one of three
representatives of World Methodism received in the Papal Library, along
with representatives from other Christian communions. Among his first
words to the Methodist delegation that day were: “I must tell you that
my best friend in Krakow was the Methodist minister!”
the next 20 years or so, I had the opportunity to be in other meetings,
including an audience when the International Conference of Secretaries
of Christian World Communions met in Rome. At the time, I was serving as
chairman of the conference and was invited to present the secretaries
to Pope John Paul II before meeting with him in one of the small Vatican
time later, a meeting in his library provided an opportunity to discuss
a situation in Jerusalem and the West Bank, where Palestinian
Christians were facing uncertainty, war and restrictive occupation in a
time when his global leadership and influence were particularly needed.
the Vatican held preparatory meetings for events leading up to the turn
of the millennium in 2000, church representatives were consulted
regarding a visit of the Pope to the Holy Land marking the end of the
20th century. Cardinal Edward Cassidy, who headed the Pontifical Council
for Promoting Christian Unity, asked that I bring the report to the
pope from the ecumenical representatives in one of the plenary sessions.
meeting I requested, and the Vatican scheduled, was an audience for
members of the World Methodist Council Executive Committee in 1997. It
was originally planned for one of the beautiful rooms of the Vatican, a
floor down from the pope’s private quarters. But a change in the pope’s
schedule moved the meeting to St. Peter’s Square, where the pope offered
prayers and spoke to about 25,000 people, including our group.
route to New York to take the plane to Rome, my wife, Mary, and I were
in an accident at the Asheville, N.C., airport. We flew on to New York,
thinking the accident was not serious, but discovered in a Newark, N.J.,
hospital that Mary’s leg was broken, so we returned to Asheville.
Rome meeting went well without us. But through many telephone calls
from Rome to Mary’s hospital room, we learned that the pope, as he
greeted the thousands in the square and offered special prayers, had
prayed for Mary by name.
the pope spoke at St. Peter’s Square, he came down from the platform
where he was speaking and greeted our president, Frances Alguire, who
introduced him to several of the World Methodist Council officers.
was last at the Vatican for a meeting with Cardinal Walter Kasper in
early March 2003. He and friends at the Secretariat for Promoting
Christian Unity had arranged for me to attend a papal audience. I was
seated in the front row in the large Vatican Audience Hall, which seats
4,000. At the end, along with about 10 others, I was ushered to the
platform to greet the pope.
illness was already advanced at that time. He had been carried in a
chair by aides and brought onto the platform. Yet he spoke clearly.
picture in my mind will always be that of a dynamic person who across
his long pontificate reached out with compassion—reflecting good will,
graciousness, and the Good News of God’s love.
have enormous respect for Pope John Paul II. The impact of his life was
extraordinary; he touched areas of universal concern; he felt deeply
and was concerned for the welfare of all people and nations. His respect
for Christians in traditions other than his own Roman Catholic Church
was a gift he left us all.
*Hale retired as general secretary of the World Methodist Council in 2001, a position he held for 25 years.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.