BY BARBARA TUCKER email@example.com
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — On Sunday, the joint canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will take place in Rome, an event that has a unique connection with Richard Slisz and his wife, Alice from Tonawanda, who met Pope John Paul II in 1985.
“In June 1985, my wife and I, along with 15 other individuals from the Western New York area, were invited and honored to visit Pope John Paul II at Casa Gandofo, his summer residence,” Slisz said.
The pope spoke to the group in English and gave grand praise to America and its population of Polish Americans, Slisz related.
In 1999, Slisz was again invited to meet Pope John Paul II in the city of Toran, Poland and given an audience along with 37 people with the Hope for Tomorrow Foundation. Slisz’ wife was unable to make this trip.
“His Holiness Pope John Paul II, during his travels for many years, has strengthened the faith of all Catholics in the region and in the world,” Slisz wrote.
In a Tonawanda News article following his 1999 trip, Slisz said, “To get in touch (with the pope) much less meet him, is a feeling you can’t describe.”
Alice Slisz remarked that the audience with the pope was the greatest thrill of her life.
Not only is the elevation of two popes to sainthood at the same time unprecedented, but the men sitting in the audience will also represent a first for the Catholic Church: the ceremony will be attended by two popes.
Pope Francis will lead the ceremony as the current head of the church, watched over by his predecessor, Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.
In another unique canonization twist, it was Pope John Paul II who put Pope John XXIII on the final step to sainthood when he beatified him in September 2000.
“This is an exciting event for Alice and me,” Slisz said.
“We’re extremely happy to say we met him so many times and we’re so close to him,” Alice Slisz said. “He was just a regular priest when we met him in Buffalo in 1977 when he was Cardinal Karl Wojtyla.”
Richard Slisz called meeting the pope as “really, really amazing. You can’t think what can say, you’re so overwhelmed.”
“I can’t wait to see it on TV. We’ll be glued to the TV,” Alice Slisz said. “It’s as close to God as you can get.”