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HINGHAM — William and Nancy Wise, parishioners of St. Paul Parish in Hingham, experienced the thrill of a lifetime when, on a recent trip to Rome with other members of Legatus, they were invited to meet Pope John Paul II personally Sept. 27 in the privacy of the papal quarters.
Legatus founder and chairman Tom Monaghan, former owner of Domino’s Pizza and the Detroit Tigers, introduced each member individually to the pope as the pontiff sat in his newly renovated library.
"We were given a very special gift to meet the Holy Father," Nancy Wise said. "We felt intense joy being in his presence."
Several pilgrims were profoundly moved by this unexpectedly intimate encounter with the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church. Many trembled and some cried as they toured the pope’s home.
The Rome pilgrimage is an annual event for Legatus, an organization for Catholic CEOs, business executives, and their spouses, whose members strive to spread their faith in their professional and personal lives.
During the pilgrimage, Legatus members usually meet the pope at his Wednesday general audience, but that week the audience had been cancelled because the pope was ill. Disappointment, tempered by concern for the Holy Father, turned to surprise and delight at their unexpected meeting days later.
This year’s pilgrimage began in Vienna, Austria, a city that constituted the outer wall of defense for the Catholic Faith under the Holy Roman Empire. Among other historic and cultural sites visited was the Benedictines’ Melk Abbey and the Dominican Friars’ Priory, which have been places of uninterrupted prayer despite invasions for over 1,000 years.
Also in Vienna, members met with Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, who described faith in Austria as suffering from secularism and humanism. The cardinal emphasized that Legatus cultural leaders who evangelize by practicing their faith would be most welcome in Austria.
Rome — with its tombs of saints and popes from the time of St. Peter — represents the center of Catholicism and the continuity of the Church. In this setting, U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See James Nicholson and his wife Suzanne welcomed the pilgrims to their villa for dinner on Sept. 25. Cardinal J. Francis Stafford, then-president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, joined the group and officiated at the investiture of Ambassador Nicholson and his wife as new members of Legatus.
While in Rome, the pilgrims met with a number of other Vatican officials and toured such sites as the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (the Angelicum), St. Peter Basilica, the Vatican Museums, Gardens, and Secret Archives, and the Sistine Chapel.