How John Paul II converted a 'Time' journalist

How John Paul II converted a 'Time' journalist

After years of covering Pope John Paul II up close and personal, now retired Time magazine Vatican correspondent Wilton Wynn converted to Catholicism. The reporter says it was all due to the pope - who became his friend.

Wynn recalled that when Pope John Paul II was elected in 1978 he was covering Egypt's President Anwar Sadat, but he said he had a feeling that the new pope "would be a real newsmaker ... so I abandoned Sadat in favour of John Paul," he told USA Today.

Accompanying the new pope to Mexico in 1979, Wynn got a close look at the man and was deeply impressed, recalling that while aboard the papal plane, the pope would field questions from journalists in five languages and never dodged the tough queries.

All told, Wynn covered 20 of the pope's world travels and often talked about religion with him.

The two became close and during their travels he discovered the pope was reading his work. After he co-wrote a Time cover story on the pope's visit to England's Canterbury Cathedral in 1982, the pope stopped by Wynn's seat on the papal plane. "He reached out and took both of my hands and said, 'You are a good journalist,'" Wynn recalled. "I felt like I'd won the Pulitzer Prize."

In the late summer of 1985, before he retired for health reasons, Wynn took one last trip with the pope to Liechtenstein.

When Wynn saw the pope, he learned that John Paul had stopped between meetings to give him a blessing on his retirement. "That was one of those times I just broke down. I wept. I can't even remember what I said. I was overwhelmed."

Soon after, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls asked Wynn if he wanted to dine with the pontiff. Navarro-Valls had worked alongside Wynn as a correspondent and was aware that Wynn was considering becoming a Catholic.

That autumn they had dinner together. The pope had a few spoonfuls of his soup, and then pushed it aside, absorbed in the conversation. "He was just so intense. I could see he was determined to make sure he was understood ... He didn't talk about my becoming a Catholic."

Wynn says he was bothered by the Church's opposition to certain kinds of laboratory research with human material, like embryonic stem cell research.

"He said it is all based on the transcendent value of the human person. No human being must ever be treated as an object. That person is created in God's image and therefore has infinite value," Wynn says, adding that he left the dinner a changed man. "After dinner with the pope, I said, 'I believe.' I don't care if it looks crazy or irrational. You don't have to try to enforce this on anybody else, but you accept it and you do it, or you don't."

In April 1987, Wynn and his wife, Leila, a Protestant, joined the Church together, and a few days later John Paul invited them to a Mass in his private chapel in the Vatican.

Wynn saw John Paul in person just one time after that, soon after Time named the pope "Man of the Year" for 1994. He remembered Wynn, and as they shook hands, the pope joked that Wynn himself was the "Man of the Year."

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