On February 22, 1980, priests, seminarians and staff at the North American College in Rome celebrated the birthday of President George Washington. There was a special guest invited to celebrate the feast with us – the new pope, John Paul II.
Needless to say, a great deal of excitement was generated. In what will typify for future generations the graciousness of the person and office, the pope met each one of us individually.
Now, what do you say to the pope? Nice to meet you? Relying on my training as an altar boy in a Polish parish in Chicago, I greeted him in Polish with the phrase, “Praise be the name of Jesus Christ,” to which the pope responded, “Now and forever, Amen.”
In Polish, he asked me if I spoke Polish. I said, in Italian, “No, but I speak Italian.” He responded in Italian, “Why doesn’t a ‘Listecki’ speak Polish?” I answered, “Because I am the product of many generations in the United States.” Then, in English and with a heavy accent, he pulled me close to him and said, “Listecki, when are you going to visit Poland?” I told the pope that I hoped to visit that summer. “Good,” he said. “You know I have a few friends there.” “Yes,” I said. “About 36,000,000, and all of them claim to be your cousin.” He laughed.
continue at ArchMil (this leads up to talk about Holocaust Remembrance Day)