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May 11, 2021 656 Shalom Tidings
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“Once a Priest, Always a Priest”

A priest was visiting Rome and had an appointment to meet Pope John Paul II in a private audience. On his way, he visited one of the many lovely basilicas. As usual, the steps were thronged with beggars, but one of them caught his interest. “I know you. Didn’t we go to seminary together?” The beggar nodded in affirmation. “Then you became a priest, didn’t you?” the priest asked him. “Not anymore! Please leave me alone!” the beggar replied angrily. Mindful of his approaching appointment with the Holy Father, the priest left promising,  “I’ll pray for you,” but the beggar scoffed, “A lot of good that will do.”

Usually, private audiences with the Pope are very short—a few words are exchanged as he bestows his blessing and a blessed rosary. When the priest’s turn came, the encounter with the beggar-priest was still playing on his mind, so he implored His Holiness to pray for his friend, then shared the whole story. The Pope was intrigued and concerned, asking for more details and promising to pray for him. Not only that, he and his beggar-friend received an invitation to dine alone with Pope John Paul II. After dinner, the Holy Father spoke privately with the beggar.

The beggar emerged from the room in tears. “What happened in there?” asked the priest. The most remarkable and unexpected reply came. “The Pope asked me to hear his Confession,” choked the beggar. After regaining composure, he continued, “I told him, ‘Your Holiness, look at me. I am a beggar, not a priest.’”

“The Pope looked tenderly at me, saying, ‘My son, once a priest always a priest, and who among us is not a beggar. I also come before the Lord as a beggar asking for forgiveness of my sins.’” It had been so long since he had heard a Confession that the Pope had to help him through the words of absolution. The priest commented, “But you were in there for such a long time. Surely the Pope’s did not take that long to confess his sins.”

“No,” said the beggar, “But after I heard his Confession, I asked him to hear mine.” Before they departed, Pope John Paul II invited this prodigal son to take on a new mission – to go and minister to the homeless and the beggars on the steps of the very church where he had been begging.

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