Local men remember meeting John Paul II
A Youngstown man was alone with John Paul in the pope's private chapel.
"He was the greatest man of our century, the world will miss him," said Richard Short of Salem, describing Pope John Paul II, whose funeral takes place today.
Short, who is the postmaster in Ellsworth and a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps, met the pope in 1979 when the pontiff came to America.
Short was serving as a flight engineer on the presidential helicopter flight crew, which was assigned to the pope's visits to several American cities.
"We called it Papal One, much like the reference for the President's Air Force One. When the pope would arrive at an airport, we would fly him to the specific location to eliminate motorcades and other security concerns," he said.
Short met him on the helicopter flights in Chicago and Des Moines. He said when he encountered John Paul, his warm personality was evident.
"He had the bluest eyes. They sparkled. They danced."
Although Short did not get the opportunity to have a full conservation with the pope, those memories have stayed with him over the years. He was given a certificate of appreciation and a rosary with the papal seal, which included a reproduction of a cross that is on the pope's staff.
Short, a Presbyterian, said he greatly admired John Paul, calling him "the pope of the people." He added, "He's done more for world peace and mankind than anyone I can think of in recent years."
Short stressed that even with all the pope has been through during life -- the assassination attempt and illness in recent years -- "he was not afraid to die."
A Youngstown man, David Venerose Jr., said he will never forget meeting John Paul at the Vatican on Dec. 31, 1999.
A member of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Youngstown, he traveled to Rome on a pilgrimage with the Rev. William Witt of Youngstown in the hope of meeting the pope.
Venerose, who is Italian, had gone to Rome as an 8-year-old in 1978 to visit family members. He said John Paul was the only pope he's ever known.
Venerose said letters requesting a private audience with the pope had been sent for several months before their trip. Everyday during their stay, they would wait for the call from the Vatican.
Finally, they were informed that they would be among the 18 people, mostly religious, who would be attending a private Mass and a one-on-one meeting with the pope. Father Witt also was asked to concelebrate the Mass.
Venerose said he was escorted into the private chapel before the others and there he said John Paul was kneeling alone in silent prayer.
"It was just the two of us in the chapel. He was four feet away from me. Neither of us said a word," he noted.
When the Youngstown man was introduced to the pope, the local man was asked where he was from. Venerose said when he told him he was from Youngstown, Ohio, the Holy Father said, "Oh, Bishop Malone".
Bishop James Malone, the late head of Youngstown Diocese, had met with the pope many times and especially in his role as head of the National Conference of Bishops.
Venerose was given a rosary, two gold papal coins to commemorate the millennium and photos with the pope to remember the meeting.
He also recalled that a piece of fringe from the pope's sash fell to the floor. Venerose picked it up and attempted to return it to Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, the pope's personal secretary and closest adviser, so that it could be reattached to the sash.
The archbishop told Venerose to keep the fringe as a memento because "one day he [John Paul] will be canonized a saint."