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placeholder Spiritual journey marked path to beatification for Pope John Paul II

‘Lessons’ recalled

Beatification, canonization differ

French nun healed

CYO camp: Focus on the person and traditional experience without electronics

Mall location brings tutoring close to kids

500 at first Walk Against Genocide

Teens spruce up Fairyland

Exhibit on maize in the Americas

• Sister Mary Victoria Hernandez, OP
• Sister Clarissa Marie Koscielski, OP
• Father John Mittelstadt, OFM

placeholder April 25, 2011   •   VOL. 49, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA
‘Lessons’ recalled

Bishop John S. Cummins

Thoughts on Pope John Paul II stimulate my memory of being present with 75,000 people at Mass in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, with 500,000 at the Franciscan Shrine at Zapopan in Guadalajara, with the 1 million in Grant Park Chicago or with the 4 million on Catholic Youth Day at Jose Rizal Park in Manila. As bishops, however, we had the privileged opportunity of 15 minutes of private conversation during the five-year (ad limina) visits to Rome required of us to report on our diocese.

My first of four such visits was 1983. I left from a concelebrated Mass at the Pius X altar in St. Peter’s with a friendly squeeze of my arm from Barbara Morrill, who always organized a Roman pilgrimage as the Oakland accompaniment. The pope was standing at his desk in the elaborate hall. He welcomed me warmly and declared while looking at the map of the United States that I was from “Oakland, in Ca-li-FORN-ia” (to distinguish presumably from Auckland, New Zealand).

I had more on my mind than I was aware of at the time. A review of American religious (women and men who serve their orders and congregations under the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience) was being conducted under the chairmanship of Archbishop John Quinn of San Francisco. I spoke warmly of our relation with our religious men and women and particularly with the religious, community members and theologians, who were part of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. I emphasized my assessment by placing my hand on his wrist, which I quietly withdrew, as I explained the mutually beneficial relationship between the diocese and the seminaries.

The GTU reference came easily as, at the suggestion of my sister, I presented the pope with a leather bound acceptance speech in Polish and English of the Nobel Prize poet from the University of California, Czelaw Milosz, a Polish friend of John Paul II. Jesuit Father Joe Carroll, who worked with us so many years, had the book autographed by the author. Pope John Paul was pleased. “We do not always agree,” he said, “but he is a very religious man.”

That conversation would be touched on during every one of my visits. I explained at one time that Professor Milosz though retired was still teaching, at another remarking on his remarriage at 80 years of age, somewhat to the astonishment of the pope. That moved easily to a discussion of the University of California at Berkeley and the inquiry the pope made of the number of Nobel Prize winners. News of such conversation was very cheerful to Berkeley’s Chancellor Chang Lin-Tien. An amusing moment took place once after a lull in conversation about Berkeley. The pope asked, “Do you have anybody else besides intellectuals in your diocese?” Two days after such a conversation and at the end of morning Mass in the private chapel, the pope walked past me, put his fist on my shoulder and remarked, “Ah! Berkeley.” It was an endearing gesture.

Conversation through the years

A continuing point of conversation through the years was the diversity of people on the West Coast. John Paul II was very alert to the needs of our Latino people. He also had a favorable comment on the situation we had in which parishes were not divided by language but were composed of languages. He indicated such a situation was an advantage. He was surprised by the reality of our Asian population, both by its extraordinary diversity and particularly by Catholic numbers that required our setting up of several pastoral centers.

Vocations to priesthood and religious life were standard parts of the conversation. The pope’s questions were both flattering and gratifying in wanting my assessment of the situation in North America. In the early days he spoke favorably of our bishops’ statement on nuclear arms and inquired what effect it had had on places like Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. I recall too my exploring with him the situation of Opus Dei in the diocese. I indicated that they were searching the possibility of establishing a center if not a headquarters in our diocese. I said I understood that he was favorable toward them. His response came quickly and calmly: “They’re controversial, you know.”

Our last visit with him was particularly memorable. Somehow the Syriac Bishop Joseph Younan and I were misplaced to an evening before the pope was headed for the Balkans. I felt my 7 o’clock appointment was interfering with his preparation for travel. I was far more interested in the pictures and conversation of our Holy Father with the Oakland group than his time with me. We did cut the 15 minutes just a bit and I introduced Sister Barbara Flannery as our chancellor. The pope was jovial with his response, “Hmm . . . chancellor!” The three canon lawyers with me, Fathers Ray Breton, Bob McCann and Frank Vicente, OP, received less attention. Monsignor Daniel Cardelli of St. Isidore Parish in Danville received his own special notice as he spoke to the pope in Italian. As we left, I offered best wishes for safety in his travels. Our Holy Father, somewhat short of a reprimand, said to me, “It’s not Bosnia.” I found out it was Croatia. Papal lessons are never forgotten.

(Bishop Emeritus John Cummins served as the second bishop of Oakland from May 1977 until his retirement in October 2003.)

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