Continued from previous issue
Judging from the Chairman’s remarks on that occasion, I said I had the impression he felt there were misunderstandings in his country about the Cuban crisis that called for correction.
«Not so much inside this country, but the Chinese have done everything !hey can to misrepresent what happened. You get echoes of their propaganda here and there. The Albanians, for example.
«The Albanians remind me of something that happened when I was young and used to work in the mines,» he continued. «When the miners came up for lunch, they would amuse themselves by calling over small children and offering them kopeks if they would memorize some words and then go home and recite the words to their parents. When the children agreed and held out their hands, the miners gave them kopeks and proceeded to instruct the children in the foulest words known to the Russian language. And afterwards, when the kids left, the miners would howl with laughter when they imagined these tots teaching their parents such choice vocabulary.
“It was stupid, of course, but this was the sort of thing that amused the miners. Well, the point of my story is, somebody has been teaching the Albanians dirty words and giving them kopeks.
“Anyway, most people are smart enough to understand that it is ridiculous to talk in terms of another war. Pope John understands this. I would like to express my appreciation to him for what he did during the crisis of the Cuban week. Do you have any suggestions?”
I said I was certain that the adoption of policies that would make for genuine peace on earth was the finest reward that might be given the Pope. Naturally, the Pope was profoundly interested in the possibility of improvement in the conditions of religious worship within the Soviet Union. If there were new developments indicating such improvement, I was certain he would be gratified to hear about them.
The Chairman said nothing for a moment, then leaned forward in his chair. “Your government in the United States has been separated from the Church,” he said, “and you have no idea what the situation was here under the Czar. I can tell you that all of us who lived under it will never forget what it was like. The Church became the means for perpetuating political tyranny and cruelty.”
Again I stressed I was speaking as an individual; I felt justified, however, in saying there was no desire to restore the Church to its Czarist status. In fact, there was a keen awareness of the abuses that had been carried out at that time. What was sought now was an amelioration in the conditions of religious worship inside the Soviet Union, with full realization that this would be done within the framework of the existing political authority.
He replied that many of the Soviet leaders had strong religious backgrounds. Some of them had even studied in seminaries. They’d had to struggle against the social injustices and political tyranny of the Czars. He said they saw the Church as a full partner of the regime. “The priests were the gendarmes of the Czar, and they had to be uprooted along with everything else that belonged to the Czar.”
Once again I emphasized that there was no idea of reverting to Czarist traditions. But religious freedom was guaranteed under the Soviet constitution. Therefore there was nothing inconsistent between what was being sought and Soviet law. For example, there was a need for increased availability of holy literature, release from prison of religious figures, greater freedom with respect to religious education, removal of difficulties concerning baptism eradication of anti-Semitic practices, etc.
The Chairman said he would like to go at these specifics one at a time. He said he wasn’t too familiar with the precise situation pertaining to publication of Bibles or other religious literature, but would be glad to look into the matter and review it. Then he asked what was meant by the point about release of religious dignitaries from prison.
I said that over the years many attempts had been made to obtain the release from prison of Archbishop Slipyi of the Ukraine. Pope John was hopeful that something could be done. He was not addressing himself to the reasons for the internment; these reasons went back many years and there was no point in rearguing the case. After eighteen years, however, it was not unreasonable to ask that the Archbishop be given an opportunity to live his few remaining years as a free man.
I thought I detected a stiffening in the Chairman’s manner.
“You know,» he said, ‘‘I’m rather familiar with the Slipyi case. I’m from the Ukraine. The entire matter is still fresh in my mind.”
Then, for almost twenty minutes, the Chairman proceeded to describe the religious situation in the Ukraine before 1947. He spoke of the competition between the Ukrainian Rite Catholic Church, to which Archbishop Slipyi belonged, and the Russian Orthodox Church. He spoke of the struggle for power inside both groups. He traced the leadership in the Ukrainian Rite Catholic Church under Archbishop Sheptytsky. He told of the meeting in 1946 that resulted in deep divisions within the Ukrainian Rite Catholic Church. He said that Archbishop Sheptytsky died in 1944 under circumstances that indicated “his departure from this earth may have been somewhat accelerated.”
In any event, Slipyi had succeeded Sheptytsky as Archbishop in 1944. The reason for his imprisonment, the Chairman said, had to do with collaboration with the Germans during» the war. He added that those who defended Slipyi claimed that «collaboration» was too strong a word and that he had been responsible for saving many lives because of his position.
Once again I said that I hadn’t come to argue the original case, but it was now eighteen years since the Archbishop was first imprisoned.
Again the Chairman shook his head. «It is not a good idea,» he said. «I would like to have improved relations with the Vatican but this is not the way to do it. In fact, it would be the worst thing we could do. It would make a terrible stink.»
When Oleg used the word «stink,» I was certain something had gone wrong in translation. I asked for clarification. Oleg said the term “stink” was perhaps a little strong in translation and that what the Chairman meant was that the release of the Archbishop would produce exactly the opposite effect from the one hoped for.
In what respect? I asked.
The Chairman said if the Archbishop were freed, there would be large headlines proclaiming «Bishop Reveals Red Torture.» Of course, he said, such stories would be false but newsmen were certain to exploit the Archbishop’s release in those terms. The net effect would be to worsen relations with the Vatican.
«I think I can assure you,» I said, “that Pope John is not seeking the Archbishop’s release for purposes of making propaganda against you. The Church is not lacking in materials for this purpose. All the Pope wants is to give Archbishop Slipyi a chance to live out his life in some distant seminary. The Pope is acting in good faith in seeking the Archbishop’s release. Incidentally, you probably are aware that Pope John has made no denunciations against you or your government. He recognizes that important changes have been made since Stalin’s time and he feels there is hope that this trend can be continued and expanded.»
«Let me think about this,» said the Chairman. «It is not an easy question. Anyway, as I say, I welcome the opportunity to have good relations with the Catholic Church. This doesn’t mean that I’m going to become a Catholic any more than the Pope is going to become a Communist. I’m not going to try to convert him and I know he’s not going to be able in convert me, although»—here he grinned— «stranger things have happened. Anyway, I have no objections to the Church so long as it keeps out of politics. In fact, I believe the government should help to protect the Church so long as it stays within its religious purposes. We had an important meeting recently and I took pains to invite the head of the Russian Orthodox Church.»
I said I was certain that Vatican officials would be glad to learn of his opinions in these matters and that I would explore the possibilities of improved communications. I did, however, anticipate one problem in this respect. I then referred to the apprehension among some Vatican officials that such improved contacts might be exploited for political reasons.
“Not so,” he said. “You can give them reassurance o this point.”
As an example of what I had in mind, I referred to a prominent item appearing in the Soviet press shortly after the Cuban crisis. It praised the Pope’s call for peace but then proceeded to interpret his action as proof that the Pope was turning against the West and against the United States in particular. Such an interpretation, I said, was inaccurate and harmful. If further activities by the Pope on behalf of peace were going to be exploited for propaganda purposes favorable to the Soviet Union, then obviously the Vatican would have to disassociate itself from such an interpretation.
Mr. Khrushchev said that he was sorry to hear about this news item. He had not seen it. He said it didn’t represent his view or the view of the government. He asked, if the matter came up in my conversations with Vatican officials, that his regrets be made known. In the Soviet Union, as elsewhere, he said, it was difficult to keep bumble heads out of important news jobs—as his own experience with the Tito episode had just demonstrated.
At this point I thought it important to reiterate that the Pope was not asking for improvements in the religious situation of Catholics alone. He was speaking on behalf of all religions. This led me to the next major point, anti-Semitism.
I mentioned the increasing restrictions in worship, economic repression, and discrimination in government.
For the first time in our talk, I could see that the Chairman was somewhat impatient.
“Not this again!” he said. «I wish I knew how these accusations originated. They’re plainly false. Even Mrs. Roosevelt used to write to me about anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union.
“Let’s start with one fact,» he went on. «Is there prejudice against minority groups in the Soviet Union? Yes, there is. But we are working on it. It is not a major problem. Despite all our laws against discrimination and prejudice, some prejudice and discrimination exist. This should not be difficult for an American to understand. You have laws in the United States. Despite these laws, millions of your dark-skinned citizens don’t have equal job opportunities, equal education, equal rights under the law. There are some cases where laws take a long time to become fully effective. But everything begins with the law.
«We have laws in this country against racial and religious discrimination. By and large, we think we do a good job of enforcing these laws. We like to think we have a much better record than the United States in this respect. Your problem of racial discrimination and segregation, not just in the South but in the North, is a very serious one. And so far your law enforcement has been unable to do the job adequately. You have made progress. But as I say everything begins with the need for people to know where their government stands on important questions.
«On the matter of anti-Semitism, our government is officially opposed to all religious or racial discrimination or segregation. Does the government itself discriminate? No. One of the most important jobs in government—the job of Finance Minister—is held by a Jew. Jews are eminent in other fields—in literature, the theater, ballet, science.
“Let me tell you something else. I’m the grandfather of a Jewish boy. My son married a Jewish girl. They had a child. Then my son went off to war and was killed. The mother and child became part of my family. I brought the child up as my own. You see how preposterous it is to say that I’m anti-Semitic?”
I asked the Chairman whether he would welcome correspondence on the subject of official and unofficial discrimination against Jews. I had seen abundant documentary material I should like to call to his attention.
«Certainly. Anytime.» He spoke with emphasis.
As to Pope John’s interest in furthering conditions for world peace, I said, the Pontiff believed it might be useful to lollow up the success of the International Geophysical Year with an International Cooperation Year. Would the Chairman be willing to support such a project if it were proposed through the United Nations? Mr. Khrushchev replied that it sounded like an excellent idea and that he could see no reason why his country would not give every encouragement to the project.
I stood up to leave. We had discussed the main items on my agenda—and a few others. I was mindful of the fact that the Chairman hadn’t had his lunch, even though we had been talking for nearly three hours and it was now almost 2 pm.
«Please sit down,» said the Chairman. “How is President Kennedy?»
I said he was in excellent health and spirits. Also that he was extremely eager to develop the kind of relations with the Soviet Union that would help create the conditions for a more peaceful and orderly world. The time had come to move away from the Cold War.
The Chairman said he would meet the President, or anyone else, more than halfway for that purpose.
«One thing we ought to do right away,» he said, «is to have a treaty outlawing the testing of nuclear weapons and then start to work on the problem of keeping these weapons from spreading all over the world. It is not true I am against inspection. I keep seeing stories in American newspapers that say the Soviet Union is opposed to inspection as part of any test ban. This is not true. If the United States wants reasonable inspection, it can have it. What we do object to is using a nuclear test ban treaty as a device for opening up our country to all sorts of snooping that has nothing to do with the test ban. We see no reason why it shouldn’t be possible for both our countries to agree on the kind of inspection that will satisfy you that we’re not cheating and that will satisfy us that you’re not spying.
«Apart from the test ban, of course, there is the problem of Germany. I can understand why Americans look at Germany somewhat differently from the way we do, even though you had to fight Germany twice within a short time. We have a much longer history with Germany. We have seen how quickly governments in Germany can change and how easy it is for Germany to become an instrument of mass murder. It is hard for us even to count the number of our people who were killed by Germany in the last war. More than twelve million, at least. We have a saying here: ‘Give a German a gun; sooner or later, he will point it at Russians.’ This is not just my feeling. I don’t think there’s anything the Russian people feel more strongly about than the question of the rearmament of Germany. You like to think in the United States that we have no public opinion. Don’t be too sure about this. On the matter of Germany, our people have very strong ideas. I don’t think that any government here could survive if it tried to go against it.
“I told this to one of your American governors and he said he was surprised that the Soviet Union, with all its atomic bombs and missiles, should fear Germany. I told your governor that he missed the point. Of course we could crush Germany. We could crush Germany in a few minutes. But what we fear is the ability of an armed Germany to commit the United States by its own actions. We fear the ability of Germany to start a world atomic war. What puzzles me more than anything else is that the Americans don’t realize there’s a large group in Germany eager to destroy the Soviet Union. How many times do you have to be burned before you respect fire?»
I asked the Chairman whether he didn’t recognize an even greater danger to world peace than a rearmed Germany; namely, the fact of a lawless world in which each state determines the requirements of its own security, the net effect being world anarchy and a stage for world war. Wasn’t a strengthened United Nations the only true source of security—for his nation or any other?
He replied that the Soviet Union didn’t believe the United Nations was a truly objective agency for peace. The influence of the United States in the United Nations was disproportionate, he said; therefore, the U.N. tended to become an instrument of American foreign policy rather than an impartial world organization.
I asked him whether it was pertinent to point out that the United States had similar misgivings about the main agency of the United Nations charged with maintaining world security—the Security Council—precisely because of the influence of the Soviet Union in that body through its veto. Rather than get into a debate on the weaknesses of the United Nations, I wondered whether he would agree that what was necessary was a determined effort to make the U.N. adequate, objective, and impartial in those respects having to do with enforcement of world peace.
«Do you expect me to agree to a U.N. that can come into our county and tell us what to do?»
«Certainly not. Quite the contrary. The purpose of the United Nations should be to protect the essential sovereignty of nations, large and small, by having adequate authority in matters concerned with the common security of all nations.»
“We’re not against any idea that really makes for genuine peace,» he said, «as long as no one tries to take away the gains of our Revolution.»
Again I stood up and started to thank him for his hospitality.
«Before you go, let me give you something for the Pope and President Kennedy,» he said. «Just some Christmas greetings.» He reached into a drawer and took out some official stationery on the front of which was an embossed drawing of the newest of the Kremlin buildings. Then in his own hand he wrote messages to Pope John and President Kennedy. After he had finished, he handed them unsealed to Oleg Bykov and instructed him to translate the messages. I found it striking that the message to Pope John used religious terminology not readily associated with the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. It made a specific reference to the holy days in wishing the Holy Father the best of health at Christmas time. The other note was a simple expression of good wishes during the holiday season for the health and well-being of the President and Mrs. Kennedy.
On the way to the door, Mr. Khrushchev asked me to convey his Christmas greetings to Father Morlion and to thank him for his part in arranging our meeting; also, to tell him that he would be delighted to have him come to visit him in Moscow. «He doesn’t have to take off his priest’s clothes when he comes.» He smiled.
I thanked the Chairman for his cordial hospitality and left. Early the next morning, I was on my way back to Rome.
Monsignor Cardinale, Father Morlion, and Don Carlo Ferraro stayed up late that night to hear the report on the events in Moscow. As we were leaving, Monsignor Cardinale said the Pope’s condition was slightly improved and that there probably would be an opportunity for me to report to him directly the next afternoon. Meanwhile, he had arranged for separate meetings with Archbishop Dell’Acqua, Cardinal Bea, and Cardinal Eugene Tisserant, dean of the college of cardinals. He was especially eager that I give a full account to Archbishop Dell’Acqua of the matters relating to the ideological confrontation between the Soviet Union and Communist China.
The schedule the next morning went off as planned. Most of Cardinal Bea’s questions centered on the Chairman’s reactions to suggestions for religious amelioration and the request for the release of Archbishop Slipyi. Archbishop Dell’Acqua was interested, of course, not only in the purely religious aspects of the discussion with Chairman Khrushchev but in the possibilities for political and ideological change within the Soviet Union. On the basis of the report, he said he felt it even more propitious than ever for greater involvement by Pope John in matters concerned with peacemaking among nations. Indeed, he felt that any delay might be costly in the sense that Khrushchev’s co-existence policy might be shelved unless he could show results. The alternative to the Khrushchev policy was bound to be carried out by men whose ideological and historical leanings were in the direction of Peking. He felt especially concerned about the need for agreement on a treaty to outlaw nuclear tests.
Cardinal Tisserant, dean of cardinals, world-famous not only as a churchman but as a scholar, resembled an Old Testament prophet. His large brown eyes and russet beard dominated a proud head. He listened intently and seemed especially interested in the Chinese developments.
Having made the rounds, I returned to the offices of the Vatican Secretary of State. As we passed through the large doors, Monsignor Cardinale told me of an episode that occurred at that spot the evening of October 28, 1958, when the Papal election ceremonies in the conclave of cardinals were completed.
Well-wishers in profusion pressed in upon Pope John XXIII. Indeed, the congratulatory urge felt by many of the members of the hierarchy was so strong that aides of the Pope tried to protect him by installing him in one of the offices of the Vatican Secretary of State and placing the Holy Seal across the door.
Breaking the seal is a profound sacrilege. But the enthusiasm of the pursuers, many of whom were cardinals and bishops, persisted, and they swept past the seal as though it had never existed. Trying desperately to stem the tide, Cardinal Tisserant cried out to Monsignor Cardinale, then secretary of the conclave: «Stop them! Do something! They will be excommunicated!»
Pope John smiled. «Very well,» he said gently. «They will be excommunicated and my first act as Holy Father will be to grant them complete absolution.»
Everyone laughed, and the tension was broken. The Pope quickly became engulfed by a human congratulatory tidal wave. It was a strenuous session for the seventy-seven-year-old Pontiff, but he was equal to it.
Monsignor Cardinale then related a number of other anecdotes about Pope John’XXIII, all of which pointed up the Pontiff’s genius for human relationships. Indeed, the historic Ecumenical Council was a reflection of his desire to bring the Catholic Church into closer contact with the outside world, making it more responsive to needs of human beings everywhere, whether Catholics or not. He didn’t believe that God penalized anyone for not being a Catholic. Religion was a matter of individual conscience. All religions were entitled to respect. Even non-believers who have had audiences with the Holy Father were told that he included them in his prayers.
I learned that Pope John’s flair for human relations and the importance he attached to direct contacts with the outside world were highlighted by several specific incidents. Shortly after his election he set out from the Vatican one morning on the first of a series of visits to Italian prisons. Asked by his aides to explain his purpose, he said simply: “It is somewhat more difficult for the prisoners to come to see me.”
On another occasion the Pope had left his car and was strolling back to his apartment in the Vatican when a distraught priest came up to him and begged his prayers for the paralyzed wife of a friend. The Pope said he could do better than that: He would go directly to the stricken woman at her home, which he did.
The third incident told me by Monsignor Cardinale concerned Pope John’s central purpose. A Canadian dignitary asked the Pope to explain the main objectives of his Papacy in general and the Ecumenical Council in particular. Pope John stood up, walked over to the window, opened it, and said, «What do we intend to do? We intend to let in a little fresh air.»
It was made clear to me that Pope John had no intention of dictating change; his purpose was to set the stage for it. The Ecumenical Council, already one of the great events in the history of religion, was called for the purpose of having peoples of all Christendom consider what kind of changes were required and how best to meet the problems involved.
Monsignor Cardinale told me my appointment with the Pope was scheduled to follow his general audience in the afternoon. He said he thought I might be interested in observing the response of the audience to the Pope’s warmth and charismatic appeal.
It was exactly as Monsignor Cardinale had predicted. More than a hundred people were waiting in the audience. When the Pope arrived, he quickly demonstrated a remarkable ability for making each person feel he was the recipient of individual Papal attention. The Pope sat in his high-backed, velvet-lined chair, his head resting lightly against the frame, and he spoke easily and informally about the meaning to him of Christmas. He related incidents drawn from his long pastoral life and he said that peace in our time had to be more than aspiration. It had to be a reality. He blessed his audience, stepped down, and was assisted through a side door to big office.
Monsignor Cardinale and I followed the Pope into his oak-paneled study. No sooner had I entered the room than the Pope turned to me. «We have much to talk about,» he said. «Just remember, I’m an ordinary man; I have two eyes, a nose—a very large nose—a mouth, two ears, and so forth. Even so, people sometimes remain rigid and uncommunicative when they talk to me. You must feel completely relaxed. We will talk as man to man.» He smiled.
I handed him the letter conveying President Kennedy’s concern and good wishes for his health. After he read the letter, I gave him the Christmas greeting from Nikita Khrushchev.
“The President is a wonderful man,” Pope John said. “I have met some members of his family. They’re all very fine people. The President is a splendid representative of the American people. When you return to the United States, I have something I want you to give him from me for Christmas.”
«It is nice of the President to be concerned about my health. It is nice of Mr. Khrushchev, too, to send me a Christmas greeting. I get many messages these days from people who pray that my illness is without great pain. Pain is no foe of mine. I have memories. Wonderful memories. I have lived a long life, and I have much to look back upon. These memories give me great joy now and fill my life. There is really no room for the pain.
«There is so much to think back upon. When I was young, I was an Apostolic Delegate in Bulgaria. I came to know and admire the Slavic peoples. I tried to study the Slavic languages, including the Russian. I never became really proficient, but I did learn to read the language to some extent. I am sorry I never pursued these studies. Do y6u speak the Russian language?»
«No,» I said.
«A pity. You really ought to learn it. You are much younger than I. I am studying the Russian language. It wouldn’t take you very long. A very important language. The Russian people, a very wonderful people. We must not give up on them because we do not like their political system. They have a deep spiritual heritage. This they have not lost. We can talk to them. Right now we have to talk to them. We must always try to speak to the good in people. Nothing can be lost by trying. Everything can be lost if men do not find some way to work together to save the peace. I am not afraid to talk to anyone about peace on earth. If Mr. Khrushchev were sitting right where you are sitting now, I don’t think I would feel uneasy or awkward in talking to him.»
I told Pope John that Chairman Khrushchev had expressed almost similar sentiments about him, pointing out the similarity of their peasant backgrounds, their upbringings in small villages, and their love of laughter.
«That is quite right.» The Pope smiled. «When you live close to the land, you have a real kinship for those who have done the same. As I say, I have never given up on the Russian people. Theirs is a deep spirituality that should never be overlooked. I don’t think anything will change it.»
Pope John listened intently as I gave the highlights of my report, beginning with an account of Mr. Khrushchev’s response to the request for the release of Archbishop Slipyi.
«I have prayed for many years for the release of Archbishop Slipyi,» he said. «Can you imagine what it must be like to be cut off for so many years from the kind of service you have prepared yourself to live, and from life itself? What is your impression? Do you think the Archbishop will be released?»
I said I had no way of knowing. In any case, we would probably know before long. I then reported on the rest of the conversation with Mr. Khrushchev. When I completed the report, Pope John smiled and said, «Much depends now on keeping open and strengthening all possible lines of communication. During the terrible crisis over Cuba in October the possibility of a nuclear holocaust became very real. As you know, I asked the statesmen to exercise the greatest restraint and to do all that had to be done to reduce the terrible tension. My appeal was given prominent attention inside the Soviet Union. I was glad that this was so. This is a good sign.»
His voice betrayed his fatigue and general sense of depletion, but he spoke with eagerness.
«I want to give you something,» he said. He reached into a drawer and took out his personal medallion. «I hope you don’t mind the absence of formal ceremony,» he added. “It would please me to have you accept this little award for what you have done for Archbishop Slipyi.”
I suggested that we wait until we learned whether the mission had been successful. If Archbishop Slipyi were released, I said half-facetiously, perhaps Mr. Khrushchev should receive the medallion.
Pope John smiled.
«It’s not appropriate for the Holy Father to bestow awards on heads of state,» he said, «but I am going to give you two medallions. The first is for you. The second is for you, too, but with it I confer upon you the authority to award it with my blessing to anyone»—here he vocally underlined the word anyone—»you feel has deserved it.»
I stood up to leave.
«World peace is mankind’s greatest np“d,» he said. «I am old but I will do what I can in the time I nave.»
Pope John walked with us to the door of his study and expressed renewed thanks for what had been done for Archbishop Slipyi.
On the way out to the car, Monsignor Cardinale emphasized that the Holy See was not attempting to arrogate to itself an unwelcome or unnatural role in its effort to reduce tensions between East and West. But there were so many elements of danger and so few elements of control that the Pope’s efforts were essential. Even if these efforts were misconstrued, the Monsignor said, this was no warrant for inaction or absence of initiatives. The worst that could be said about Pope John was that he was taking Christianity literally.
After the Monsignor left me at the hotel, I went for a long walk. I had much to think about. I could reflect that ours was an age that looked to physical motion for its spectacular achievements. The main articles of wonder in the modern world were men encased in metallic capsules spinning through outer space, or atoms pried open in order to release vast stores of energy, or streams of electrons following images of events happening thousands of miles away. But none of these miracles of motion would have the impress on history, I was convinced, of an eighty-one-year-old man, dying of cancer, using the Papacy to make the Church fully alive in the cause of human unity and peace.
Just before I left for the airport the next morning, Monsignor Cardinale arrived at the hotel with a large object.
«I hope this won’t complicate your baggage problems,» he said. «It’s a little Christmas present from the Pope for the President and Mrs. Kennedy. Here, let me show it to you. It’s very easy to unwrap.»
There emerged from the brown wrapping and tissue paper a silver icon about two feet long. Monsignor Cardinale said it was made in the ninth century a.d.
Later that afternoon, flying across the Atlantic, I could ponder the vagaries of life that had brought me to this particular point in space and time. I wondered what I would have thought many years earlier if, when I began my job at the Saturday Review, I had been told that in due course I would be in a propeller less plane high above the ocean and that I would be bearing a medieval icon from the Pope to the President.
Two days after my return to New York, I was informed by Ambassador Dobrynin in Washington that Archbishop Slipyi was being released upon the direct request of Chairman Khrushchev. The Ambassador thought I might like to relay the news to Pope John.
I left the Soviet Embassy, went into the nearest telephone booth, which happened to be in the lobby of the Washington headquarters of the United Automobile Workers, and put through a transatlantic call to Monsignor Cardinale, who was overjoyed to hear the news and who said he would rush off at once to notify the Holy Father.
Back in New York, I dictated a note to Nikita Khrushchev, thanking him for taking positive and prompt action in releasing Archbishop Slipyi. I told him about the two medallions, and then said that by virtue of the authority vested in me by Pope John I was conferring one of them upon him.
Several months later, I returned to Moscow carrying a message from President Kennedy that sought to unblock an impasse at that time in the test ban negotiations. (The account of this visit appeared in SR for November 7, 1964.)
Mr. Khrushchev was in good spirits. He began by thanking me for Pope John’s medallion.
«I keep it on my desk at all times,» he said. «When Party functionaries come to see me, I play with it rather ostentatiously. If they don’t ask me what it is right away, I continue to let it get in the way of the conversation, even allowing it to slip through my fingers and to fall on the floor; so that they have to watch out for their toes. Inevitably, I am asked to explain this large engraved disc. ‘Oh,’ I say, ‘it’s only a medal from the Pope