Mario Enzler and three other Swiss Guards played cards at an outdoor table, enjoying an Easter break at Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer retreat. Then Enzler tossed down a bad card, and his partner uttered a mild curse. Almost simultaneously, the Holy Father’s skullcap landed in the center of their table.
The four startled men looked up to see Pope John Paul II peering down at them from a balcony.
“Oops!” the Pontiff said.
Enzler related this incident and other fond memories of the saint on May 6, the anniversary of the Swiss Guards, when he spoke at a benefit gala for The Lyceum, an independent Catholic school in the Cleveland diocese.
“He was a very special person with an enormous ability to communicate and a brilliant intellect,” Enzler said of the Pope he served for more than three years in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Enzler described the teasing relationship he maintained with the Pope’s butler and a prank that prompted a flash of Papal humor. After each general audience, the butler toted two heavy bags of rosaries as he led the Pontiff out of the auditorium. Enzler was already standing at attention and saluting when his friend passed. With no warning, the man elbowed the Swiss Guard at the bottom of his sternum, causing Enzler to double over in pain just as Pope John Paul II reached him. Tipping forward, the Guard almost toppled into the Pope. The Holy Father paused and said in his sonorous voice, “Mario, there is no need to bow.”
Enzler cherishes a rosary the saint gave him at a moment when the Guard felt discouraged. It was Enzler’s seventh consecutive day on duty in the palace. His feet ached, he suffered in the hot weather, and his spirits plummeted as he stood alone hour after hour. He longed for the Pope to notice him.
He finally heard the tell-tale shuffle — caused by Parkinson’s disease — that announced the Pontiff’s approach. When the Holy Father passed Enzler without glancing at him, the weary, disappointed Guard briefly closed his eyes. He opened them a moment later to gaze into Pope John Paul II’s face. Enzler marvels that the Pope had returned to him without making a sound.
The saint pulled a simple rosary from his pocket and handed it to the Swiss Guard, advising him to make it his “most powerful weapon.”
The Pope identified the Rosary as his favorite prayer, and Enzler also came to treasure it. Today he keeps the Pope’s gift with him always.
“A man should carry the most powerful weapon with him,” he said.
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