It was 1988 when I had the chance to attend a morning Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, a time when Pope John Paul the second was still a vigorous man.
I traveled to Rome to produce a half-hour documentary on Mobile Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb’s ad limina meeting with the Pope. Ad limina is Latin for “to the threshold” of the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul as well as a report to the Pope on the status of a diocese. It’s a trip every bishop makes, every 5 years.
After Mass ended, the Pope took a few moments to greet those who attended, including a group of Mobile area seminarians, priests and me.
As I watched the Pope approach us in the receiving line, I decided to greet the Pope in Slavic, which I learned from my grandparents, with the hope of getting him to stop and talk:
Lipscomb: This is our television commentator from Mobile.
Pope: He is?
Grip: Slava Isusu Christu.
Pope: I v’iki v’ikov. (translation) Are you Ukrainian?
Grip: No. Slavic.
Pope: Ah, Slavic.
Years later, in 2001, when the effects of Parkinson’s were painfully apparent, I met the Pope again at the Vatican, but this time on a private visit with my entire family. He gave each of us a set of rosary beads, featuring the crucifix he carried wherever he went.
To read about the backstory of the 1988 trip, click here.