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Remembering Pope John Paul II
The nine-day mourning period for the Pope is being marked by a reciting of the rosary at noon every day through Tuesday, April 12, in the Campus Ministry’s Office in Gengras Student Union, Room 153. In addition, all flags at the university will be flown at half-staff until Saturday.
The passing of Pope John Paul II touched many at the University of Hartford, including members of a delegation who met the pontiff five years ago on the occasion of the Pope’s historic visit to Israel.
University President Walter Harrison was among the delegation that traveled to Israel to meet the Pope in March of 2000, as part of a multi-university consortium with connections to the Bethsaida Excavation Project. Bethsaida was an ancient fishing village in Israel that was home of the apostles Peter, Andrew, and Philip.
The pinnacle of the trip to Israel came when Harrison; Richard Freund, director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies and a leader of the Bethsaida excavation; and Arnold C. Greenberg, then chairman of the university’s Board of Regents; presented the pontiff with the “Key to the Kingdom,” a replica of an iron door key that was unearthed at Bethsaida. The replica of the key was created by Tom Bradley, associate dean of the Hartford Art School.
Freund said that the Pope took a personal interest in Bethsaida when it was determined that it was a place where the apostle Peter lived and worked. As Vatican officials planned the Pope’s trip, they requested to receive the “Key to the Fisherman’s House,” a personal and symbolic connection between John Paul II and Bethsaida.
On Monday, Harrison said he was touched by his meeting with Pope John Paul II and he described the pontiff as “saintly. There was a spirit of holiness about him that was very difficult to describe but very easy to recognize,” Harrison said. “This was a man who made enormous contributions to the world. He’s going to be greatly missed.”
Freund called his short and extremely meaningful exchange with the Pope the highlight of his career. As Freund presented the pontiff with the key, a tired Pope John Paul II spoke only these words: “the Key of Peter.” Freund responded, “the Key of Peter, the Key of Peter.”
Harrison said that during their meeting, the Pope was surrounded by a huge entourage. “There was this incredible crush of humanity, and in the middle of it all, there was this very calming presence.”
The university’s connection to Pope John Paul II was also reflected in remarks made by Harrison as he opened the Hartford Scholars Scholarship Dinner on Saturday night. Harrison asked guests for 30 seconds of silence to reflect on the passing of Pope John Paul II.
“I’m far from being a Catholic,” said Harrison, “but I can tell you I was in the presence of a saint.”