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BY TIM DRAKE
Alberto Michelini has had some of the most
interesting lunch conversations.
It’s no wonder: He dined many
times with Pope John Paul II, and has the film to prove it.
The Italian television reporter
also has served as a member of the European Parliament and the Italian
Parliament as Italy’s envoy
is also a filmmaker. Earlier this month, he released Credo — John Paul II. The film, premiere by New York’s Follieri
Foundation, features the singing voice of Andrea Bocelli.
Michelini spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake
while visiting New York for the film’s U.S. premiere
Tell me about your family.
My father worked in the Vatican state for 40 years. He worked in the palace of
the governor, in the Vatican museum and for Vatican
radio. My mother was a homemaker. I am one of three children. I have a brother
who is a composer and director of an orchestra. My sister is a doctor.
In 1979, you accompanied Pope John Paul II on his first trip to Poland. I
understand that because of that trip you missed the birth of your twin son and
During that trip, in June 1979,
while I was in Czestochowa,
my wife gave birth to our twins. The Holy Father was informed of their birth.
When he saw me he asked, “So, are
I replied, “Yes, Holy Father.”
He asked, “Are they good?”
I said, “I hope so, Holy Father.”
Then he said that they needed to
be baptized. One month later, in a very secret ceremony, there was this
beautiful occasion to share with the Pope, my parents and my wife’s parents.
Our twins were the first children baptized by Pope John Paul II.
The situation was providential.
Also at that time, my wife, who
was German and Protestant, came into the Church. At the time, she had been
studying and reading the Catechism and the Gospels. She was preparing herself.
She made her profession of faith
in the hands of the Pope, was confirmed and received first Communion.
You traveled with Pope John Paul II more than 30 times and frequently had
meals with him. Is there a particular meeting that you remember?
In general, especially during the
first 10-15 years, I had many occasions to be very close to Pope John Paul II.
I was alone with him twice and was invited to breakfast, lunch or dinner. He
liked to invite people just to speak about the many issues in society, young
people, the Church, and situations in the countries.
He was always so interested in
speaking with people.
I often brought friends or
political entourages to meet the Pope. Because of my closeness, many friends
asked to be invited. One of these occasions was May 13, 1981, the day of the
The day before, I had invited a
close friend, Dr. Jerome Lejeune, to attend a
conference against abortion. On May 17, the Italian government was going to
vote for or against abortion, so I had asked Dr. Lejeune
to attend a conference with me on May 12. Dr. Lejeune
was in the Academy
of Sciences and knew the
Pope, but not well. He told me he would come if he could see the Pope.
I asked the Pope’s secretary,
Stanislaw Dziwisz, and he told me to bring Dr. Lejeune to lunch. Dr. Lejeune,
his wife, and I went, and it was a very interesting meeting. The Pope told us
that he was very disappointed with the attitude of silence on the part of the
Italian bishops on abortion.
Afterward, Dr. Lejeune
went directly to Paris.
I went to a meeting with a group of parents about a private school we were organizing
At 5:35 p.m. someone called me to
the school. A mother had been watching the television and told me that the Pope
had been shot. I replied that this was impossible, as I had left him in his
apartment only two hours earlier.
I left immediately and went to the
hospital, where I stayed for 15 days to report the news.
I told myself as I was driving to
the hospital, “This is impossible that we are without this Pope.” When I spoke
with Stanislaw Dziwisz and read what the Pope said
during his transportation, it was clear that he too felt he would come out
How did you decide to create the documentary Credo?
In 2000, Andrea Bocelli sang 16 sacred songs, including the Jubilee Year
song, the “Ave Maria” and “Panis Angelicus.”
I helped the company to produce a video that included images of the pontificate
with four of these sacred songs. That was one of my videos — just images and
music. When the Pope died, the manager called me. She had been impressed that 3
million people would go to the basilica and wait 20 hours to see the body of
the Pope for just a few seconds. She wondered if we could use music and images
from that time.
We combined Bocelli’s
music with images from Pope John Paul II’s
pontificate, including footage I had shot while in the Vatican. We
tried to link the images to the songs and the result was very impressive and
moving. It has been presented in Rome,
and on every occasion it brings tears to people’s eyes. We had a screening at
the actor’s chapel in St. Malachy’s Catholic Church
in New York
on July 10. The film is being distributed in the U.S. by Warner.
You were given unrestricted access to the Vatican
archives for the documentary. Was there anything you learned about Pope John
Paul II that you hadn’t known before?
Since 1977, I have lived my faith
through Opus Dei. In Opus Dei, one of the strong points of the spiritual life
is sanctity in work. You sanctify yourself and others through work.
Through living every day — the
Mass, the Rosary, the Gospel, meditations — you become more effective in
action. To be contemplative and at the same time live in the middle of society
are two faces of the same medal.
I have seen in Pope John Paul II
this way to be contemplative.
I was always very
moved seeing him praying everywhere in this very strong way. If, for instance,
he was with several million people and a bishop or cardinal was speaking, he
was there with closed eyes and you could see that his mouth was praying. I was
always very impressed by this attitude.
At the same time, he would speak
very strongly against injustice. I remember after the collapse of Poland, he said
he felt like Moses with the Ten Commandments. He passed through 10 different
Polish cities speaking in each city about one Commandment. He told the people,
“We worked together. We reached freedom and now you are spending your freedom
in the worst way, through immorality.”
He also had a sense of humor. The
eyes of the Pope were very special. He had a way of watching that was
They could be very sweet like those
of a mother and like those of a father at the same time. The impression I have
had in this year is that he was like a medium touching heaven. He was there,
but at the same time he was at another place. He was a man of God.
Have you met Pope Benedict XVI?
Yes, I know him. He knows me. We
had a long interview for a private television station in 1998-1999. I met him
about two months ago and he asked me what I was doing. When he learned that I
was working for Africa he said, “Go ahead. Africa is important and you Italians have much you can do
because you are closer.”
I was very pleased that Cardinal
Joseph Ratzinger became Pope because he represents
continuity, is a good person, and a theologian. He was the first collaborator
of Pope John Paul II. It was my hope that he would be chosen.
Tim Drake writes from
St. Joseph, Minnesota.