On the occasion of the Pope’s funeral today, I reflected on the tender mercies of the Lord, and how the Pope was often an instrument in the hands of the Lord to impart such tender mercies on His children who look with an eye single to His glory through their Catholicism. When Elder Bednar spoke of the tender mercies of the Lord in the Sunday afternoon session of the recent General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he reminded us of the Lord’s caring for His children and of His awareness of our situation. Elder Bednar shared an amazing story that can be understood as representing such a tender mercy of the Lord:
In a recent stake conference, the tender mercies of the Lord were evident in the touching testimony of a young wife and mother of four whose husband was slain in Iraq in December of 2003. This stalwart sister recounted how, after being notified of her husband’s death, she received his Christmas card and message. In the midst of the abrupt reality of a dramatically altered life came to this good sister a timely and tender reminder that indeed families can be together forever. With permission I quote from that Christmas card:
“To the best family in the world! Have a great time together and remember the true meaning of Christmas! The Lord has made it possible for us to be together forever. So even when we are apart, we will still be together as a family.
“God bless and keep y’all safe and grant this Christmas to be our gift of love from us to Him above!!!
“All my love, Daddy and your loving husband!”
Clearly, the husband’s reference to being apart in his Christmas greeting referred to the separation caused by his military assignment. But to this sister, as a voice from the dust from a departed eternal companion and father, came a most needed spiritual reassurance and witness. As I indicated earlier, the Lord’s tender mercies do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Faithfulness, obedience, and humility invite tender mercies into our lives, and it is often the Lord’s timing that enables us to recognize and treasure these important blessings.
Paradoxically heart-wrenching and comforting at the same time, this story is a wonderful example of the tender mercies of the Lord.
Pope John Paul II seemed to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands to provide such tender mercies from the Lord to many people. My mind turned to Elder Bednar’s description of the tender mercies of the Lord as I read an incredible account in the German newspaper Die Welt that described just such a tender mercy of the Lord imparted by the Pope.
The Rome correspondant for Die Welt, Paul Badde, wrote of the tender mercy he and his family experienced because of the Pope. On November 17, 1980, the Pope was making a visit to Fulda, Germany. On that occasion, Badde had traveled from Offenbach to Fulda so that his young deaf son might have an opportunity to see the Pope (since he would never be able to hear him). But Badde arrived too late to get seating in the cathedral, which was filled to capacity. He unsuccessfully tried to convince the ushers/door-guards to just allow him to go in and stand so that his deaf son could see the Pope. One of the guards took him aside, however, and told him that he understood his desire and that if he would meet him near the cathedral later that evening, he would help them find just the right spot to see the Pope as he left the cathedral. That evening, the guard positioned them near the door of the cathedral and as the Pope exited the building, he walked directly over to Badde and his son.
Dann stand er vor mir. “Heiliger Vater”, sagte ich leise, “bitte segnen Sie Jakob. Er hört nichts.” “Ich weiß”, antwortete er, ging auf Jakob zu, neigte sich, küßte ihn aufs rechte Ohr und legte ihm die Hand auf die Stirn. Ich hatte den Kopf halb geneigt und spürte, daß er auch mir die Hand auf die Stirn legte, leicht und warm. Es war hell im Hof, schwerelos.
Badde asked the Pope to bless his son because he was deaf. The Pope said, “I know,” kissed his son’s right ear, and then laid one hand on his son’s head and one on Badde’s head. Later that night on the drive home, Badde remembers thinking “now things will get better. . . . I knew that it wouldn’t get any easier, but also that nothing would be quite like it was before from now on.” (“Jetzt wird alles gut. . . . Ich wußte, es würde nicht leichter werden, aber auch, daß nichts mehr sein würde wie vorher.“) Badde noticed that his watch had stopped ticking, showing the date November 17, 1980.
Exactly twenty-three years later, on November 17, 2003, Badde’s terminally ill brother called him from Berlin and asked him for some guidance on certain prayers to be said with a rosary. Badde obliged and even sent him a rosary that the Pope himself had given him and which he considered his “little treasure.” That very evening, Badde received a call on his cell phone from the Vatican:
In der Nähe des Pantheons klingelte mein Handy. “Sind Sie morgen in Rom?” fragte eine Stimme am anderen Ende der Leitung, aus dem Vatikan: “Und sind Sie gesund?” Ich war beides. “Dann kommen Sie früh um zehn mit Ihrem Paß zur Bronzenen Pforte! Der Heilige Vater empfängt Sie zu einer Privataudienz.”
The caller asked if Badde was in Rome and if he was healthy. Badde answered both questions in the affirmative and was thereupon advised that he was summoned to a private audience with the Pope.
The next day Badde, his wife, and their daughter appeared at their private audience with the Pope in the Vatican.
Ich sah den Papst sogleich, als sich die Tür öffnete. Licht flutete durch die Fenster und ergoß sich von einem Murano-Leuchter auf den Teppich, hinter dem der Nachfolger Petri in Weiß in seinem Sessel auf uns wartete.
Krankheit zeichnete ihn. Aus tausendjährigen Augen schaute er uns an. “Wie gut, daß es Sie gibt!” sagte meine Frau, als sie vor ihm das Knie beugte. Unsere Tochter strahlte ihn fassungslos an, als er seine Segenshand auf ihre Stirn legte. “Heiliger Vater!” stammelte ich, ergriff die Hand und küßte seinen Ring. “Ich habe Ihnen Weihrauch mitgebracht, aus Jerusalem, direkt vom Zionsberg.” – “Dankeschön!” antwortete er in seinem alten Deutsch. “Gott segne Dich!”
They saw the Pope bent with years and sickness. Badde knelt before the Pope and told him he had brought a gift of incense directly from Jerusalem for him.
Karol Wojtyla musterte mich mit wachen Augen, hob die Hand zum Segen und reichte mir einen Rosenkranz, wie zuvor schon meiner Frau und unserer Tochter. Exakt die gleiche Perlenschnur, die mein Bruder Karl seit Weihnachten 2004 auch in Berlin in seinem Grab um die Hand gewickelt hält.
Thanking Badde for the gift, the Pope then reached out and handed him a pearl rosary identical to the one that Badde had sent to his brother and that his brother now holds wrapped around his hands in his grave.
I found this story to be a fantastic illustration of the Lord’s tender mercies, as discussed by Elder Bednar. What an excellent talk that was, and what a wonderful experience provided to Paul Badde by the tender mercies of the Lord.