“Thirty-nine years ago today I was on my way into St. Peter’s Square when the pope was shot,” Joan Lewis said over the phone on May 13.
It is just one of many vivid memories Lewis has of the years of her life that overlapped with St. John Paul II’s, including four decades in Rome, where she closely followed the pope as a journalist and later as a Vatican translator who worked on an apostolic exhortation and the pope’s last will and testament.
Today the energetic 79-year-old Vatican journalist has spent the past few months in isolation in her apartment during Italy’s coronavirus lockdown.
Ahead of the 100th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s birth on May 18, Lewis affectionately recalled her memories of the Polish pope with a sweet tooth during a quarantine phone conversation.
“One day … I read that he loved chocolate,” she said. “I am a chocoholic, and so I thought, ‘Gee, I wonder if he might like some brownies or chocolate chip cookies?’”
“My dad’s motto was: ‘Don’t be backward in coming forward,’” she said. “So, using that to my advantage, I made about two dozen brownies, about three or four dozen chocolate chip cookies, and I called Mgsr. Stanisław, and I said: ‘I have something for the Holy Father.’”
“I didn’t tell him what it was,” Lewis added with a laugh.
Msgr. Stanisław Dziwisz, now a cardinal, was the long-time personal secretary of John Paul II, working with him since Karol Wojtyla was Archbishop of Kraków.
Lewis arranged a time to meet Dziwisz — explaining that what she had to give to the pope could not be trusted to be left with the Swiss Guards. The next day she received a thank you note.
This became a regular habit for the American at the Vatican. Every few months she would bake a sweet treat for the pope.
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