Lessons from Blessed John Paul II

Saturday Book Pick: What a Swiss Guard learned from the Pope for life and work.

Andreas Widmer’s The Pope & the CEO is part memoir and part coaching manual inspired from his two years of service as a Swiss Guard under Blessed John Paul II and now, more than 20 years later, as a corporate executive.

In the same way John Paul focused his papacy on developing a robust understanding and defense of the dignity of the person, Widmer applies the same principles at the SEVEN Fund, which he founded to develop enterprise-based solutions to poverty.

Divided into nine lessons, The Pope & the CEO is not meant to be a philosophical treatise on work or leadership. Instead, it’s a practical read meant for actual application through its questions for reflection at the end of each chapter. This makes it an ideal tool for business leaders or other groups to use for book discussions and activities.

At the core of Widmer’s work is a profound narrative of how one’s faith should not be limited to one’s attendance at Mass or time spent in private prayer. Faith, as the Church teaches, requires application in all areas of one’s life — including the way we interact with our friends, family and co-workers.

Widmer’s two years of service as a Swiss Guard was during the height of communist Eastern Europe. In The Pope & the CEO, he recounts visits to John Paul from both Ronald Reagan and Poland’s dictator, Wojciech Jaruzelski, whom he notes John Paul treated with the same respect and kindness. At the same time, Widmer uses the opportunity to not just critique communism’s utilitarian philosophy, but to extend that lesson to how companies should treat both their employees and customers.

Utilitarianism — the maximization of personal pleasure and the pursuit of the maximum amount of pleasure for the greatest number of people — is now the world’s prevailing philosophy and the hallmark of modern-day individualism. Widmer counters this with a call to reorient oneself and one’s priorities toward what is best for the common good — particularly in the workforce. 

Ultimately, The Pope & the CEO is a reflection on vocation, which Widmer defines as “one’s mission in life.” While he details the various vocations in the Church, his central message is that we all must come to understand and be certain of our vocation in life. By knowing what we are called to do and what our purpose is we are able to recognize that we are also being prepared and made right for the next life.

Throughout John Paul’s 27-year pontificate, the world saw some of his greatest and lowest moments. From the survival of the assassin’s bullet in 1981 to his many trips around the world, to his public suffering and death, he showed the world not only how to live, but also why he lived. During this time he also shared some invaluable lessons to a young Swiss guard, who has now chosen to share them with the rest of us.

Register correspondent Christopher White writes from New York.



John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard

By Andreas Widmer

Emmaus Road, 2011

152 pages, $12.95

To order: emmausroad.org

(800) 398-5470