Many of you know the name Scott Hahn. He is one of the finest lay Catholic theologians and one of the most celebrated apologists; a Presbyterian Minister who converted and was received into the Catholic Church in 1986. Scott Hahn told the story of the experience of a friend during his visit to Rome. Among other activities, the priest was scheduled to have a private audience with Pope John Paul II. On the appointed day, the priest had many hours free, and so like a tourist, he decided to stop in a basilica to say a prayer. There were a number of beggars on the steps of the church, as it is fairly common in Rome. As he was passing by, he thought that he recognized one of the beggars but he went on into the Church. As he knelt to pray, he remembered how he knew the man. The priest rushed out and approached the beggar; he said: ‘’I know you. Didn’t we go to seminary together?’’ The man gave a nod of affirmation. ‘’So you are a priest then?’’ He said to the beggar. The man replied, ‘’Not anymore. Fell off the deep end. Please leave me alone.’’ The priest remembered his approaching appointment with the Holy Father. So, he said: I’ve got to go – I’ll pray for you.’’
The beggar with the familiar face replied. ‘’A lot of good that will do.” With that, the priest left the beggar on the steps and left for the audience. As it is the practice, there were a number of people who had been granted a private audience at the same time; as the Holy Father makes his way toward a person, his secretary hands him a blessed rosary, and the pope in turn hands it to the person. At this point, people would probably kiss the Pope’s ring and say something heartfelt, such as asking him to pray for them; telling him they are praying for him; or thanking him for his service to the Church. However, when Pope John Paul II approached, the priest could not help himself all he could say to the Pope was, ‘’Please pray for my friend’’ and then went on to tell the entire story. The Holy Father looked concerned, and he assured the priest that he would pray for his friend. Later that day, the priest was contacted on his cell-phone by a staff from the Vatican who told the priest that he and the beggar – the former priest on the steps of the cathedral were invited to join the Pope for dinner. Excited and curious, he rushed back to the church where he last saw his former classmate. Only a few beggars were left, and as luck (or grace) would have it, his former classmate was among the few. He approached the man and said, ‘’I have been to see the Pope, and he said he would pray for you.
But there’s more. He has invited us to his private residence for dinner.’’ ‘’Impossible,’’ the man said, ‘’Look at me. I am a mess. I haven’t showered in a long time…and my clothes…. ‘’Realizing that this beggar was his admission ticket to have a dinner with the Pope, the priest said, ‘’I have a hotel room where you can shower and shave, and I have clothes that will fit you.’’ Again, by God’s grace, the beggar priest agreed. Later, they were off to have dinner with the Pope. The hospitality of the Pope’s apartment was as wonderful as the meal. At the close of dinner, just before dessert, the Holy Father motioned to his secretary and priest to leave him alone with the beggar Priest. After quite some, the beggar came out from the room in tears. So, the priest asked him “What happened in there?” The beggar priest answered: “The Pope asked me to hear his confession.”
To be continued
• Most Rev. (Dr.) Alfred Adewale Martins, Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos.