Probably the first of a few JP the Great tributes I'll be posting in their entirety---yes, they're long, but nice, so if you have a mind to read them, go ahead...
Lean forward and kiss his ring?
He'd prefer that you give him a bear hug instead.
When Pope John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, it was the humane details the local folks who met him were remembering.
"He was a very unassuming, down-to-earth guy," said Dave Cole, recalling the day he and his wife Henny entertained Cardinal Karol Wotyla, the future pope.
"He didn't want anyone to kiss his ring, nothing formal like that. He wanted to hug us. You know how some people come into your house for five minutes and they feel like they're part of the family? That's how he was," she said.
The circumstances that brought the Cardinal from Poland to the Coles' house in Trooper that day in July 1976 were the result of a happy "accident," Cole told this reporter last April.
It all began with Henny Cole's aunt, Sister Bernice, who was a Felician nun working at the Vatican at the time.
"When she knew of people in Rome who were coming over here for some reason, she would tell them if they needed a place to stay that they could use our house," he noted.
Both Wotyla and his assistant, Father Ambroziak, had traveled from Poland to attend the Catholic Eucharistic Congress, which coincided with the U.S. Bicentennial celebration.
"I arrive at St. Charles Seminary to pick up the priest, and it turns out the Cardinal had no driver to take him around," Cole recalled.
Even priests are not immune to scoring a few points with the boss, he suggested. Sympathetic to the cardinal's dilemma, Ambroziak volunteered Cole's services, and both men rode to Trooper with Cole behind the wheel.
"When he got in my car the first thing I thought of is, 'What do you say to a cardinal?'," Cole laughed.
"My wife didn't even know he was coming with us, but we spent the whole day with him. We took him to a Polish shrine in Doylestown, where he said Mass, and then he came back to the house. We invited all the neighbors over, and their kids."
As they neared the house, Wotyla asked if it was the family's summer home.
"I said, 'Yeah ... also winter, fall and spring,'" she said.
The cardinal had a good chuckle over that, noted Cole.
What Cole remembers most about the unexpected visitor was the way he came across like a "lovable grandfather."
"He was very robust then, very strong. He picked up my daughter Alison, who was two years old then. He was very warm. You just wanted to be around the guy. Over the years so many people have asked me what he was like. And that's exactly how he was."
Wotyla had tickets to a Polish composers concert at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia that evening. As a way of thanking the Coles for their hospitality, he insisted they attend the concert with him.
"My wife was planning on having a big dinner at the house, but we were running late."
Not a problem with this preeminent guest, who was happy to grab a bite to eat anywhere the Coles suggested.
"He was not fussy at all," Cole said. "He told us this was the only time he had spent with an American family."
Not surprisingly, the talk eventually turned to the subject of religion.
"Father Ambroziak had said the cardinal was one of the great philosophers of the Catholic Church, and he really was an interesting guy to talk to," Cole said. "He said 'You Americans don't know what freedoms you have. Until the government takes away your religious freedom, you'll never see your churches full. That's the way it was in Poland. The government was so anti-religion that it bonded the people together and made the church stronger than ever.'"
"He said, 'Over here in the United States it doesn't matter if you go to church or not, that's your right, your freedom. You just don't appreciate it until someone takes it away.'"
When the Coles and the cardinal parted ways late that night, Wotyla extended an invitation to the couple to stop by the Vatican if they were ever in Europe.
During a vacation to Rome many years later, they took him up on his offer.
By then, of course, Wotyla had become Pope John Paul II.
"When he got elected in '78 it really blew our minds to think it was the guy who spent the day at our house," Cole said. "When we visited him at the Vatican, he actually remembered us."
In 1982, Cole had written to the pope, asking him to pray for his father, who was dying of cancer.
"About two weeks later we received a letter from the Apostolic Delegate in Washington, D.C. that the pope had gotten my letter and that he was forwarding to me a handwritten blessing and rosaries for my father. We never really expected that, but it shows you how caring and thoughtful this man was."
Cole admitted he never had an inkling that the man he opened his home to would one day be made head of the Catholic Church.
But Ambroziak's parting words to him following the ride back to St. Charles Seminary that night were eerily prophetic:
"He told me, 'You may have hosted the next pope.'"
Father Patrick McManus of Visitation B.V.M. Catholic Church was only eight years old when Pope John Paul II visited Philadelphia in October 1979, a year after assuming the papacy.
"When he came here, I remember sitting in front of the television, watching it the entire time," McManus recalled.
"I didn't really know the significance of it until later on, when I became a priest, but I look back on it fondly now."
Twenty years after being glued inexplicably to the screen that day, the newly ordained McManus was celebrating Mass with the pope in Rome.
Cardinal Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua, then Archbishop of Philadelphia, had written a letter to the Vatican on McManus' behalf.
"It's not especially unusual for a newly ordained priest to celebrate Mass with the pope, but you do need somebody to sponsor you," McManus said. "A friend and I went over to Rome and we didn't know it would happen until the day before when we got a phone call in our hotel room. They said the Holy Father would like me to come in the morning and celebrate Mass with him."
When he first saw Pope John Paul II, McManus remembers being struck by his "prayerful" bearing.
"You knew there was something different about him. As soon as you walked into the chapel and saw him kneeling down praying you knew you were in the presence of a holy man, almost like a saint, right in your midst."
--from the Times-Herald of Philadelphia