5. POPE JOHN PAUL II
This is the story of how three ladies with a vision made history.
In 1979 I was preaching at a Presbyterian Church in Santa Monica, California. Three ladies, real sisters and single, had been praying for me since 1969 when they read in the newspaper that I had started carrying the cross around the world. These wonderful Catholic ladies had heard I was speaking and came to meet me. They were lovely ladies. I just loved them at first sight. They had prayed for me every day for ten years, now we meet. The prayer partners met with the objects of their prayers: Me, the cross, and the mission.
The Dorack sisters wrote a letter and sent one of my books to their good friend, Father Maloney, the head of the Paulist Fathers, saying, “Why don’t you have Pope John Paul invite Arthur to come with the cross to celebrate the ten years of Arthur carrying the cross around the world?”
I didn’t know anything about their request until I received a letter from Father Maloney saying he was extending an invitation to me on behalf of Pope John Paul II to come to Rome and carry the cross and meet with the Pope on December 19, 1979. I phoned the Dorack sisters and we praised the Lord together.
I carried the cross from the seaside into Rome, then to Vatican City, a small enclave in Rome that is an independent state. There, stands the largest church in the world, St. Peter’s. The buildings contain many of the greatest artistic treasures of mankind, including the indescribable Sistine Chapel painted by Michelangelo.
First, the cobblestone Square, then I carried the cross to St. Peter’s, and then walked on to Audience Hall, after passing the beautifully dressed Swiss Guards who guard the Vatican. Father Maloney was with me; a short, smiling man, and Mike Ooten, my American helper.
We left the cross inside the entrance and were led by monsignors to a special seat in front of the auditorium. The Pope speaks at Audience Hall every Wednesday when he is in Rome. About 20 other people were here to meet and speak with the Pope this day. Audience Hall was filled with people. The Pope came in the back, down the aisle, shaking hands and smiling. He then spoke on the subject of marriage, giving a summary in many different languages. After his message he walked over and visited with about 75 handicapped children and adults. It was beautiful to see his compassion. Then he looked at me and walked across the aisle to where I stood. Two priests were on either side of him. It was an awesome moment. My mind flashed with scenes of the past ten years on the road, now I’m in Rome with the Pope. His sparkling white robe contained one of the most incredible men in history; the Polish Pope. The largest crowds in history had gathered the world over to see and hear him, and here I was, a road man. Two of the most radical believers in the world were meeting.
Father Maloney greeted the pope and then introduced me as the man carrying the cross around the world, stating that it was my cross that the Pope had seen at the doorway.
“Oh, yes,” the Pope said with a smile, and then he took my hand. “Bless you and thank you for carrying the cross around the world. Thank you for bringing Christ to the people. God bless you and thank you.” He was smiling and gripping my hand.
I handed him one of my books. “This is my story of how Jesus called me to carry the cross around the world and some of the experiences along the way of my pilgrimage of life. Also, I’d like to give you this cross (it was about four-inches by two-inches). It’s taken from the cross I’ve carried around the world.”
I handed it to him and he nodded and seemed very happy. “I’ve carried the cross to declare Jesus to the world, to show His love, that Jesus is alive and the hope of the world, to deliver the message of the Bible that only through the blood of Jesus is there forgiveness, salvation and eternal life. I’ve been called to identify the cross and Christ with the common man in the streets. I don’t carry the cross to get something, but because Jesus is already in my heart. I carry it out of love.
Many times I didn’t think I’d make it to Rome, the city of St. Peter and St. Paul, but now I’m here after all these years on the road, and I’m happy to meet you. You have become a mighty voice, testifying of Christ in our time. We must help everyone understand that it is not form or ritual, but a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, through repentance and faith that saves a person.”
“Yes, yes, it’s in the heart that we believe,” he said.
As the men who stood beside him tried to move him on, he stood firm as I asked, “Is there anything I can do for you?”
He looked deep into me. He seemed to be shocked. “What did you say?” He asked.
We were speaking English and I thought he did not understand, so I spoke more slowly. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
He was startled. “No one ever asked me that, they always ask me for something,” he smiled. “Pray for me as you walk to Assisi, the city of St. Francis.”
“Yes, I will, I’ll walk to Assisi with the cross, praying for you, and one day perhaps I’ll go to Poland.”
He smiled. “Poland. Yes, maybe I’ll see you there. I pray you shall go to Poland.” He was smiling and laughing. “Oh, thank you.” He pulled me to him and embraced me, his strong arms wrapped around me, and I was holding him. Tears filled my eyes as I prayed aloud, “Jesus, bless him. God bless him, protect him.”
I could hear him say, “Thank you,” and then he was speaking words in another language. We looked at each other. “God bless you, watch over you and use you.”
“Thank you,” I said.
As his escorts moved him along, “Bless you, bless your cross, bless your mission,” he said, then moved away greeting others.
Soon, crowds were around me because they had seen the Pope and me speaking. I returned to the cross and went outside, preached to the crowd and led them in prayer.
As I walked from the Vatican my heart beat with excitement. The road to Assisi was ahead. Also, a taste of sadness gripped my heart, tears poured from my eyes as I smiled, patted my cross and started through the crowded sidewalks of Rome.