I was born in the late 1960’s to a father who was a devout Southern Baptist and to a mother who was Jewish. Before my birth and in the first few years after my birth, my father witnessed Christianity to my mother, opening her eyes to many Old Testament verses that she had not seen or read in the Jewish Saturday school of her childhood. When I was three years old, my mother accepted Jesus Christ as both the Messiah who all the Jewish people had been waiting for as well as her own personal Lord and Savior. After this she was baptized at a Baptist church and became a devout Christian. I only have memories of both of my parents being Christian, and I can still recall the mystery and my fascination with the baptistery in the Baptist church we attended when I was in preschool.
After several moves around the country that took us from Ohio to California, we finally moved to Florida where I grew up. Soon after we moved to Florida, one of my father’s coworkers invited our family to attend his Presbyterian church, and from that time forward the Perrys were Presbyterian. I had a wonderful childhood in Florida and I was an avid sports fan. One of my favorite television shows was ABC’s Wide World of Sports, which was at the height of its popularity in the pre-cable television era of the 1970’s.
On August 6, 1978, Pope Paul VI died. What I soon learned was that the three major TV networks in the United States were obsessed with who would be the next Pope and how one is chosen. My father explained to me that some men would vote and then the color of smoke coming from their chimney would tell the world that they had chosen a new Pope to lead the Catholic Church. Whenever I turned on the TV, it always seemed to be showing the same thing, the chimney. Finally, white smoke appeared on August 26, 1978 and Pope John Paul I had been selected by his fellow cardinals to be the next successor of St. Peter. Everything returned to normal in my world until September 28, 1978 when Pope John Paul I died. Oh no! There came the TV screen with the chimney again! Was I ever going to see ABC’s Wide World of Sports again? On October 16, 1978, Karol Wojtyla the Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow was chosen to be the Bishop of Rome and took the name Pope John Paul II. I had missed six Saturdays of ABC’s Wide World of Sports along with some college and professional football games so I was delighted to have my TV back. As I rejoiced to hear the words, “now back to our regularly scheduled programming…”, I was completely unaware that the man who would become the most influential Christian of the twentieth century had just put on the mantle of the papacy. This man, with whom I was indirectly quite annoyed, I would one day call my Pope. He would bravely stand up to un-godly communism and I would marvel at his strength and courage as he battled Parkinson’s disease. When he passed away I was in a state of shock as I recall saying to my friends and family, “he was the only Pope I ever knew.”
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