True insiders share their memories of life with the popes

by Kara Hansen

LEAWOOD — “Da Vinci Code” fans would have been disappointed.

But for anyone who is interested in knowing what really goes on inside the Vatican, the Church of the Nativity in Leawood was the place to be Oct. 26.

It was that night that Dr. Robert Moynihan, founder and editor of Inside the Vatican magazine, and Virgil Dechant, former Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus and Nativity parishioner, joined forces to present “An Evening of Memories of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”

Both speakers had personal relationships with the two most recent popes and shared their insights, experiences and observations with the crowd of approximately 125.

“The press described Pope Benedict as the ‘rottweiler of God,’” recalled Moynihan. “And the fascinating thing is that of all the exaggerations in the press, this may be the most extreme.

“In fact, he likes cats, and, if anything . . . he is most similar to Heidi’s grandfather in the Alps.”

“The press called him that because he was so firm in defending the faith,” explained Moynihan. “He has always spoken the truth in love, and his entire pontificate has been a teaching pontificate.”

Moynihan paid special tribute to Dechant during the evening, as their paths have crossed many times over the years.

“I was summoned here by a man I consider to be one of the great Catholics of our time, a man who knows Pope Benedict XVI, who knew John Paul II, Paul VI, and was a best friend of Pope Pius XII. He has truly been inside the Vatican, whereas I’m simply near the Vatican,” joked Moynihan.

Moynihan expounded on the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI, discussing his reform of the church and the historical significance of a German pope.

“He does not believe in imposing the faith but proposing the faith, and then embracing that belief out of love,” said Moynihan.

Dechant, in turn, shared his first-hand account of the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square in 1981.

“Those shots rang out in [St. Peter’s] Square and you could see the Holy Father being rushed inside,” recalled Dechant. “The crowd was completely stunned; no one knew what to think. Then one archbishop began leading the rosary.”

Despite the shock and fear of that incident, Dechant said the love that John Paul II showed toward his almost-assassin was incredible.

“For him to visit him in prison and to forgive him after spending 100 days recuperating — what an act of mercy,” said Dechant.

For Dechant, John Paul II’s act of public forgiveness was simply the continuation of the type of papacy John Paul II had set out to lead.

“At his first papal audience three days after he was installed, the Holy Father addressed the crowd and told us, ‘Be not afraid’ and to open wide the doors to Christ. I think those words were the message and theme of John Paul’s papacy,” said Dechant.

Dechant was quick to give credit for his remarkable experiences to the organization he has faithfully served for so long.

“Everything I have is really because of my position in the Knights of Columbus,” said Dechant.

The evening was co-sponsored by the Nativity Knights of Columbus and the Catholic churches of Leawood, comprised of Nativity, Curé of Ars, and St. Michael the Archangel. As part of the event, participants were able to view Dechant’s extensive collection of papal memorabilia and to visit with the speakers after their presentations.

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