Thursday, April 19, 2007

Salt, Light, and Lena

Once upon a time, the Today Show spent Holy Week at the Vatican. And looking at the program's eternal weatherman, Willard Scott, Pope John Paul II blurted out, "Are you from Philadelphia?"

It's no secret that this city, arguably the piece of the US that Karol Wojtyla knew best, had a prominent and distinctive place not just in the late, great pontiff's heart, but his inner circle as well. That tie owed itself primarily to John Cardinal Krol, John Paul's fellow countryman, longtime counselor and singing partner, who gave the then-archbishop of Krakow his first major English-language stage at the 1976 International Eucharistic Congress. After Krol's death in 1996, in the last decade of the Polish Pope's life, it could be said that his (and the city's) prized slot in the papal orbit was filled not by a cleric, or even a Catholic, but by a Polish-born Jewish woman, Dr Lena Allen-Shore.

A philosopher, poet and teacher who survived the terror of the Holocaust in her native country, Allen-Shore forged her bond with the late Pope through three decades of personal correspondence and an open invitation to the papal apartment. Whether John Paul was at home or on the road, Lena would often be close by; near the end of his life, Papa Wojtyla hosted a party for one of her milestone birthdays, with then-Bishop Dziwisz bearing the cake. And at his 2005 funeral, she and her two sons were seated with the papal household.

Allen-Shore's 2003 book on the late pontiff, Building Bridges, begins with a foreword from Dziwisz, John Paul's closest aide of four decades (now the cardinal-archbishop of Krakow). And she recently sat down with another of JP's beloved ones, Basilian Fr Thomas Rosica, for an emotional interview on Salt + Light's "Witness." Check it out.

On a related note, congrats and kudos to Fr Tom, the impresario behind the Toronto-based network, who today marks the 21st anniversary of his priestly ordination.