The priest could not forget the beggar 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, but 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 and his priestly faculties were removed.” He hardly had time to finish as he was hustled away by indignant attendants.
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 him in this state?”
The priest helped him to tidy up and they entered by the great gates of St. Peter’s, where they were met by Monsignor Dziwisz, the Polish secretary to the Pope. He conducted them to the dining room where His Holiness awaited them. After introductions, they sat down to a lovely meal. During dessert, 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 called them in again. Nothing was said about what happened in their absence.
As they crossed St. Peter’s Square, the priest, overcome with curiosity, asked the beggar eagerly what transpired while he was out of the room.
The beggar related that when they were alone, the Holy Father turned to him and said, “Father, please hear my confession.” In great confusion and distress he replied, “I cannot do that. I am no longer a priest.” The Pope looked at him with loving compassion. Then he raised his right hand and wagging his finger he said, “ONCE A PRIEST, ALWAYS A PRIEST.” After a long pause, he continued, “As Bishop of Rome and Head of the Catholic Church, I could restore your priestly faculties to you…but you would have to ask.” The beggar, overwhelmed and close to tears, said simply, “Please, Holy Father…” Then the Pope heard his confession and restored his priesthood to him. Afterwards (John Paul) repeated his original request and he heard the Pope’s confession.
After a pause for prayers and meditation, John Paul 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.”
This article, titled “Once A Priest, Always a Priest,” was written by Kitty D’Encer in Sicut Parvuli, Winter, 2006. It is a true story.