28: Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan

28: Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Billy Graham & Me

• 28 •

Archbishop of New York

It’s tough to get a private audience with the Pope…

In the happy years I worked for the Vatican Embassy in Washington D.C., we’d get dozens of requests for such an honor every day, from political leaders, government officials, and movers-and-shakers from business, communication, military, and ecumenical endeavors.

We took them all seriously before we passed them on to Rome. The word was out that Pope John Paul II enjoyed meeting people from all over the world, Catholic or not, so we were trying to do our best.

However — unless you were the President — our reply was always the same: no private audience can ever be guaranteed. You tell us when you plan to be in Rome, and where you can be reached; then we’ll pass on the request to the appointments people who will let you know the day before if an audience is possible. No exceptions… Except one! Guess who?

Dr. Billy Graham was going to be in Geneva for four days of meetings. Through us in D.C. he requested a private audience with Pope John Paul II.

Same reply from us: “Thank you, Dr. Graham. Happy to help. Tell us when you plan to be in Rome, and where the papal offices can reach you, and you’ll hear if and when the audience can be granted when you’re in Rome!”

Came back a courteous response: “Thank you. But, Rome is not on Dr. Graham’s itinerary. He would fly from Geneva to Rome once you can let him know if and when His Holiness can receive him.”

Uh oh! Now what? We were under strict instructions that the protocol was not to be broken except for heads of state. This could be embarrassing….

We sent it over anyway, by cable, and held our breath. Within two hours the wire came back from the Holy Father’s private priest secretary: “The Holy Father would be delighted to meet with Reverend Graham. What day would be most convenient?”

We could hardly believe it! We checked for a misprint. We had never seen this before!

Blessed John Paul II knew what the rest of the world knows: Billy Graham is one of the most beloved and effective preachers of the Gospel since St. Paul. (Which, by the way, is what Dr. Graham remarked about the Pope when he died in 2005.)

I had the honor of meeting him only once, in company with a dozen or so seminarians. One of the future priests blurted out, “Dr. Graham, any advice for us?” The famed preacher replied, “Never, ever say anything without mentioning the Name of Jesus!”

In that spirit, recalling Reverend Graham’s life with awe and gratitude, I’ll borrow Blessed John Paul II’s favorite saying: “May Jesus Christ be praised!”

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