Pope John Paul II and the Albanian Jesuit

Author: James Carroll

“…the story of the Albanian Jesuit. O’Collins was the first of my Roman hosts to refer to this, but several others would do so as well. An emotional encounter had occurred between Father John Luli, an eighty-six year old Jesuit priest, and the Pontiff, and reports of it were passed along as an instance of why so many found His Holiness irresistible. As his anniversary approached, John Paul had invited any Catholic priest in the world who was also marking fifty years since ordination to come to Rome to celebrate with him. More than sixteen hundred priests had accepted, and this week they had been meeting at the Vatican in a series of seminars and services, which would culminate at a gala Mass at St. Peter’s on Sunday. At a Vespers service in the papal-audience hall, Father Luli had been singled out to speak for the assemblage of aged priests. He was chosen because he had spent so much of his priesthood in Communist prisons and labor camps in Albania. He had been released only in 1989, as the Iron Curtain fell. The ordeal had taken its toll, and Father Luli was frail. After his testimony, he made his way carefully back toward his chair, and only then noticed that His Holiness, still on the platform, had come to his feet. The Pope was waiting for the Albanian to approach.

…”An American who had witnessed the scene described it to me: ‘This old Jesuit goes back to the Pope, who is waiting for him with his arms open. But then the Pope closes his arms to clasp his hands, which he does because his left hand shakes so badly. The old Jesuit can hardly walk, but when he gets to the Pope, he starts to go down on his knees, to kiss the Pope’s ring. But the Pope grabs him by the shoulders, and starts to haul him back up. No way is John Paul going to let this priest kneel to him — not after what he’s been through. That’s the feeling. So there you are: this struggle of these two old guys, these two old lions — the Jesuit determined to kneel, and the Pope determined not to let him. Well, forty-two years in Communist jails hadn’t broken that priest, and he made it down to his knees, but not for long. He goes for the ring, but right away the Pope hauls him up again. Just lifts the guy, like a longshoreman, and then throws his arms around him, and really hugs him. I mean, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place.’

“I never shook the image of Father Anton Luli, the aged Albanian Jesuit who, after a lifetime in a Communist prison, received that heartfelt embrace from John Paul II.”

Pages 54 & 69
THE SILENCE, by James Carroll
The New Yorker

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