I first met Pope John Paul II in late June 1979. A friend and I had hitchhiked from Dublin to Rome, where we stayed at the Convent of San Clemente near the Colosseum for two weeks. We had both commenced studies for the priesthood the previous year, writes Fr Michael Collins in the Catholic Herald.
One morning we received an invitation from an Irish priest, Fr John Magee, to meet the Pope. Fr Magee had been private secretary to Pope Paul VI from 1974 until the pontiff’s death four years later and had also served during the 33-day pontificate of Pope John Paul I.
Our introduction to Fr Magee had been arranged by an Irish Dominican, Fr Lambert Greenan, the English-language editor of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, and a friar at San Clemente.
The pontiff was staying for a brief period in the Tower of St John in the Vatican gardens while his apartments were being renovated. Fr Magee had arranged for us to be escorted through the Vatican gardens and up to the tower, which was built as a fortification for Pope Nicholas V in the mid-15th century.
The round tower opens into a hallway, in front of which is set a lift. The Irish priest came down in the lift first to greet us. He returned to fetch the pontiff, and about quarter of an hour later the lift door opened once more and out stepped Pope John Paul.
I recall how he walked into the hallway, exuding energy and cheerfulness. We were introduced to him along with other guests. After a short greeting, the Pope suggested we have our photograph taken by his photographer.
Having blessed us, he then went out through the door, where a car was waiting to take him to the Apostolic Palace for the day’s audiences.
FULL STORY Blessed encounters with John Paul II (Catholic Herald)