Late pope was example of harmony of work, life says speaker

BOSTON -- “If you think about it, John Paul as the head of the Church ran an organization much larger than any Fortune 100 CEO ever did, so his answers are not just interesting from a religious perspective,” said former pontifical Swiss Guard Andreas Widmer.

According to Widmer, Pope John Paul II preached by word and example how to be a Catholic businessperson.

He made those remarks Oct. 11 as part of his talk, entitled “My Faith in Capitalism: Reflections of a bodyguard to Pope John Paul II,” the second part in the Christ Speaks in the City lecture series. The lunchtime lectures, aimed to attract young adults who work in downtown Boston, are held at the Old Statehouse.

Scott Landry, the archdiocesan secretary for institutional advancement and chief development officer, delivered the day’s opening remarks. He said that young adults had approached the Vocation Office, saying they wanted to learn how to experience Christ in their hectic lives. This lecture series was the office’s response, he said.

“I encourage you to clear out all the noise that comes from our busy lives,” he said. “Make no mistake, Christ is speaking in the city of Boston. Our fall series features four speakers who will share how they heard and are hearing Christ’s message.”

Widmer, who grew up in a small town in Switzerland, enlisted in the Swiss Army as a teenager. After a year of service he applied to be a member of the Vatican’s elite Swiss Guard. He reported for duty just before Christmas in 1986 when he was just 20 years old. One of his first assignments was to stand at one of the exits of the pope’s apartment on Christmas Eve, his family’s favorite holiday, Widmer said.

“It was with a heavy heart that I wished my father a ‘Merry Christmas’ that afternoon,” he said. “I did report to my duty, albeit with a heavy heart and plenty of self-pity.”

His sadness dissipated when Pope John Paul II, on his way to Mass, exited at Widmer’s post and spoke with the young man. The pope noticed the new soldier and started a conversation with him.

“He held my hand and elbow and said, ‘This is your first Christmas away from home, isn’t it?’ I confirmed, and he proceeded to say, ‘Andreas, I thank you for the sacrifice you’re making for the Church, and I will pray for you during Mass this evening,’” he said. “You cannot imagine the comfort this encounter gave me.”

“The leader of a billion Catholics was sensitive enough to perceive the emotion of a 20-year-old guard whose post blended into the background as he passed by,” he added. “When you’re with John Paul II, you feel like you’re the reason why he got up in the morning. He’s fully present to you. Not only in talking to you, but first and foremost in listening to you.”

This experience and other encounters led Widmer to later reconcile his professional and spiritual life. After serving two years as a Swiss Guard, he studied international business at Merrimack College in North Andover and has worked for several different corporations. He is currently executive in residence at Highland Capital Partners, a venture capital firm in Lexington.

Widmer witnessed that Pope John Paul II was able to live in the moment and still have a plan for the future. He also lived a life based on faith and prayer, enjoyed life, was humble, had dignity, acted as a moral compass and gave himself completely to his vocation, he said.

By his example, the pope showed all Catholics how to live their vocations fully and to understand that their jobs are part of that vocation, he said.

Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical “Laborem Exercens” (“On Human Work”), “Work is less to be understood as a constraint and more to be understood as an expression of our freedom. Through work we do not simply make more, we become more. Thus work has a spiritual dimension, and when we identify our work and its hardships with the work, passion and the death of Christ, our work participates in the development of the kingdom of God.”

Widmer recommended, “If your work does not build you up as a person, then you should stop and reevaluate.”

Even though Pope John Paul II dedicated himself to his vocation, he still enjoyed life and found ways to maintain both his interests and longtime friendships. He hosted plays, poetry readings and even a circus at the Vatican and was able to find a healthy balance between his work and his life, Widmer said.

The pope was unafraid to be himself, in the midst of the demands of his position, he said.

“Bring yourself, your personality, your creativity into the task at hand. Don’t let the position define you,” he said.

The next featured speaker at the lunchtime series will be Sister Olga Yaqob, a hermit of the archdiocese originally from Iraq. Sister Olga will talk about “The Joys of Serving God’s People in Iraq and America” on Nov. 8 at noon. The final installment of the series, on Dec. 13 at noon, will feature Father Darin Colarusso, a newly ordained priest for the archdiocese and former United States Air Force navigator who flew jets over the Middle East for 12 years. The title of Father Colarusso’s address is “Drawn by Truth: How the Search for Adventure Led Me to Christ.”