I remember it well because I was with Brother Francis at the time. I knew the city fairly well having studied there at the Angelicum for a year back in 1973. So, I was happy to be asked by Brother Francis to join him for this trip in the hopes of winning the pope’s support for our doctrinal crusade. Here’s what happened:
We were on a bus going to Saint Peter’s. A young man heard us talking and asked us if we were American. We said “Yes” and then he asked why we were in Rome. When we told him about Saint Benedict Center, Father Feeney, and our purpose there, he was intrigued. He asked if we would like to meet the new ambassador from the US. “Why, of course” we replied He said, “Good, I’ll arrange it. I am his secretary. Call me. Here is my card.” His name was Mr. Negri as I remember.
The ambassador, Mr. Wilson, agreed to receive us. When we arrived the security was so tight that we had to wait half-an-hour before getting in to the embassy. I do not remember every word of our conversation, but the highlights were unforgettable. Mr. Wilson told us he was a convert to the Faith. When the issue of the New Mass came up he told us how much he admired Archbishop Lefebvre. He also said that he became a Catholic precisely because he thought the true Faith was necessary for salvation, or words to that effect. No, he could not get us an audience with John Paul II. We did have an appointment at the Holy Office already. I do also remember how he pointed out the window and asked us, “Do you know whose offices are right there across the street?” We said, “No.” He smiled and said, “the Russians!” That’s why we ran into the security delay, he explained. The whole embassy was being rewired since he had moved in. Wow!” That was thirty-five years ago. May Brother Francis and Mr. Wilson rest in peace!
CNA: Thirty-five years ago today, William A. Wilson presented his credentials to Pope John Paul II, becoming America’s first ambassador to the Holy See. This historic moment marked the start of formal diplomatic relations between the United States and the Vatican. More here.