The Priest, the Beggar and the Pope

A Young man had a vocation to the priesthood, so his bishop sent him to study in Rome. He was duly ordained priest and served in his diocese for some years. Then his bishop sent him to Rome again on a course of further study. Whilst there he used to visit a small church in Rome to say his office and to pray. At the door of this church sat a group of beggars seeking alms, and one of these made him feel uneasy for some inexplicable reason. So he went back to him and asked: ‘Do I know you?’ ‘Yes’, the beggar replied, ‘I studied for the priesthood with you here in Rome, and was ordained’. The priest was aghast. ‘Whatever happened to you?’ He was told: ‘I encountered crisis after crisis in my life and eventually renounced the priesthood. I had my priestly faculties taken from me. I lost everything and am reduced to begging.’

The Priest’s Concern

The priest could not get the beggar out of his mind, and prayed constantly for him. The study course he was attending was drawing to an end, and the students were invited to receive individual blessings from Pope John Paul II. They were forbidden to speak to him personally. However, as the priest knelt to receive the blessing his mind was so full of the beggar that he blurted out: ‘Holy Father, Please pray for X who sits begging outside a church in Rome. He was ordained priest, but has resigned the priesthood and had his priestly faculties removed’. He hardly had time to finish when he was hustled away by the indignant attendants.

An invitation

A few days later the priest received an invitation and he hurried to the church and found the beggar. ‘Come quickly’, he said, ‘we are to dine with the Pope.‘Impossible’, replied the beggar. ‘How could I visit the Pope in this state?’ The priest insisted and helped the beggar to tidy up. Then together they set off for the Vatican.

They crossed St Peter’s Square and entered by the great gates where they were met by Monsignor Dziwisz, the Polish priest who was secretary to Pope John Paul II and is now Archbishop of Krakow. He conducted them to the dining room where His Holiness awaited them.

After introductions had been made, they sat down to a lovely meal. When the dessert stage was reached the Pope signaled to his secretary who rose, and beckoning to the priest to follow him, left the room. After about 15 minutes the Pope recalled them and the meal concluded normally. Nothing was said about what happened during their absence.

It was time to leave, and as they crossed St Peter’s Square, the priest, overcome with curiosity asked eagerly what had transpired whilst they were away from the room.

The Beggar’s Story

This is what the beggar told him:

When I was alone with the Holy Father he turned to me, and said:

“Father, please here my confession”. In great confusion, and distress, I replied: “I cannot do that. I have renounced the priesthood. My priestly faculties have been taken from me. I am no longer a priest”. He looked at me with loving compassion. Then he raised his right hand, and wagging his finger at me, said: “ONCE A PRIEST, ALWAYS A PRIEST”. After a long pause he told me: “As Bishop of Rome and Head of the Catholic Church I could restore your priestly faculties to you . . . but you would have to ask”. I was overwhelmed and close to tears as I said simply ‘Please Holy Father . . . please!’

Then he heard my confession and restored to me my priesthood. Afterwards he repeated his original request and I heard the confession of Pope John Paul II.

After a pause for prayers and meditation he said: ‘When you leave here I want you to go to the church where you have been begging and seek out the parish priest, I am appointing you curate in that parish with special responsibility for the beggars who seek alms at the church door’.

With acknowledgement to
The Little Way Association