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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Remembering Pope John Paul II
Aired April 1, 2006 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Tonight, remembering John Paul II, the spiritual icon and the man, a year after he left us. You'll hear the thoughts of the Reverend Billy Graham, Nancy Reagan, Vatican insiders and more, next on a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE.
Thanks for joining us. A year ago this evening, the world had its eyes on a little room in the Vatican. It was in this room that Pope John Paul II was clinging to life. He would lose that battle the next day.
That night, we talked about the pope and the people he touched. One of them was former First Lady Nancy Reagan. She joined us by phone to reflect on their many meetings.
NANCY REAGAN, FORMER FIRST LADY: I met with him seven times, and twice alone, which was really a wonderful, wonderful experience. But, you know, he and Ronnie had so many things in common -- they both were actors.
REAGAN: They both loved the outdoors, loved sports. They both adored young people. They both had great senses of humor. They shared the title of a great communicator. When Ronnie was shot in '81, the pope was shot in '81. When Ronnie died in June of this year, the pope looks like he's going to die in this year. It's amazing how their lives crossed, you know.
KING: In fact, your husband died one day after President Bush bestowed the medal of freedom on Pope John Paul.
REAGAN: That's right. That's right. And then, you know, there was a whole communist thing. They were -- the two of them, the pope and Ronnie -- very involved with defeating communism.
KING: How well did they get along? I know that the pope had disagreements with world leaders. We've been talking about capital punishment and other things. Did they have a chemical reaction? Did they work well?
REAGAN: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. As a matter of fact, I have a picture in our library. The two of them are sitting and Ronnie is leaning forward, as if he's saying something terribly important to the pope and the pope is listening. I'd love to know what Ronnie was saying to him. KING: You met with him, you said, alone twice? What were those occasions?
REAGAN: Twice. One time I met with him at the Vatican, and that was on the drug program. And the second time I met him here, in California, when he came to visit the school.
KING: He sent a message when Ronnie died, when President Reagan died, and called him "a noble soul."
KING: Wonderful line.
REAGAN: Wonderful line. Wonderful. It was quite an experience to sit with him alone. I was very privileged to have that opportunity.
KING: Spoke English well, didn't he?
REAGAN: Oh, yes, very well. Very well. Think of all those languages he spoke. My word.
KING: Also, we discussed this -- a very hand some man.
REAGAN: Oh, very. Very. In that, he and Ronnie had in common.
KING: How do you deal with all this, Nancy, as we get older and you see all the people close to you around leaving us?
REAGAN: It's hard, isn't it? It's hard. But I guess you come to a certain point or stage and you just have to accept some things.
KING: All right. And finally, Nancy, how do you think the world's going to remember this pope?
REAGAN: Fondly. Great -- with great affected. I mean -- I don't know. I don't know how to say it more than that. Hello.
KING: Yes. One in a million.
REAGAN: Yes. Yes. Yes, he was.
KING: On the night of Pope John Paul's passing, another religious icon joined us by phone, Reverend Billy Graham.
REV. BILLY GRAHAM, EVANGELISTIC ASSOCIATION: I had the privilege of seeing the pope on several occasions at the Vatican. And tonight, I have a very strange feeling of loss. I almost feel as though one of my family members has gone. I loved him very much and had the opportunity of discussing so many things with him. And we wrote each other several times during the years. KING: Did he actually say to you once, "We are brothers"?
GRAHAM: That's correct. He certainly did. He held my hand the first time that I met him about 19 -- he's just been Pope for two years when I saw him first. Because when he was elevated to the papacy, I was preaching in his cathedral in Krakow that very day. And we had thousands of people in the streets. And watching the television today of Krakow has brought back many memories.
KING: You said that he was an Evangelist.
GRAHAM: He was, indeed. He traveled throughout the world to bring his Christian message to the world. And we see tonight the outpouring from the world that he touched. And I think he touched almost everybody in the whole world.
KING: What, Billy, in your thoughts -- you said you feel like it's a personal loss. What in the human sense was so special about him?
GRAHAM: I think it was his background in Poland. And I had finished preaching all over Poland, gotten to know many people, and I knew a little bit about where he came from.
And he was a suffering pope, too. He suffered as much as anybody you could ever imagine. His mother died when he was young. And he had that terrible assassination attack. And through it all, he taught us how to suffer. And I think in recent days he's taught us how to die.
KING: There is no question in your mind that he is with God now?
GRAHAM: Oh, no. There may be a question about my own, but I don't think Cardinal Wojtyla, or the pope -- I think he's with the Lord, because he believed. He believed in the cross. That was his focus throughout his ministry, the cross, no matter if you were talking to him from personal issue or an ethical problem, he felt that there was the answer to all of our problems, the cross and the resurrection. And he was a strong believer.
KING: Billy, thanks so much for always giving us the time. We'll see you in New York in June.
KING: God bless, Billy.
GRAHAM: ... your panel.
KING: Reverend Billy Graham.
Here with us in the studio is Father Michael Manning, the Roman Catholic Priest Society of the Divine Word, host of "The Word in the World," pastor at St. Anthony's Church in San Bernardino. And in Washington, is Father William J. Byron, Roman Catholic Priest Society of Jesuits, syndicated columnist, Catholic News Service, research professor at Sellinger's School of Business at Loyola College and the former president of Catholic University of America.
You were telling me something, Father Manning, before we began about something a priest said to you about this Pope?
FATHER MICHAEL MANNING, HOST OF "THE WORD IN THE WORLD": One of the things that I hadn't thought about was, in the last ten years of his life, he was declining greatly. And it was really, in many ways, it was almost embarrassing to see him bent over, hardly speaking, and at times, even drooling.
And you'd think, well, in our society, we want to kind of put that away. But you know what he said? He said, by his willingness to stand and be present to that, let's make sure that all those people that we want to put away, those in wheelchairs, those that perhaps have a nervous condition that would make us embarrassed because they aren't normal the way we think they should be, he gave honor and he gave a place of dignity to those kind of people in a powerful way.
What a wonderful way to go. Rather than running away, giving honor to those people that are weak.
KING: Yes, there's no nursing home for him.
MANNING: No, no.
KING: Father Byron, we use the word "great" a lot. Was he a great Pope?
FATHER WILLIAM J. BYRON, CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE COLUMNIST: I think he was, Larry. He was great. We do use that word a lot, and in this case, it's not misplaced.
In the Christian tradition, when a good person dies, we're both sad and joyful, joyful, because as Dr. Graham just indicated, we believe he's with the Lord. But we're sad because we've lost something that is so special a person, so special an influence, so special. But we go from good to great, the joy is all the greater and the sadness all the deeper.
KING: We'll take a break and come back. And others will join us from Rome on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POPE JOHN PAUL II: All human beings in every nation and country should be able to enjoy effectively their full rights under any political regime or system. Only the safeguarding of this real completeness of rights for every human being, without discrimination, can ensure peace at its very roots.
(END VIDEO CLIP) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: During his almost 27 years as pope, John Paul II visited over 115 countries, met with hundreds of different heads of states and blessed millions. So it's little wonder that a year ago today, the world collectively mourned his passing. On this anniversary, we want to look back at Pope John Paull II's life and legacy.
With former Secretary of State Colin Powell:
KING: You first met with him before he was Pope. Tell me about it.
POWELL: No, I met him in 1985, thereabouts, about 20 years ago.
KING: Oh, he was Pope.
POWELL: And he had already been the pope about seven years. And I was there with Alma. Alma was with me. We had an audience with Cap Weinberger, who was then secretary of defense, and I was working for Mr. Weinberger.
And I'll never forget the moment -- it's one of the most treasured pictures we have in our family album -- when the pope came up to us and exchanged a greeting with us and touched us. It truly was a magic, electrifying moment. I never expected that. And Alma and I have never forgotten it. It was truly being in the presence of a unique man.
KING: Is it because of him or the title, or both?
POWELL: I think it's the surrounding, the setting, the Vatican, knowing who he is, but it went beyond that. It was the man himself who conveyed a presence that I think many people who have met him will say, as I say now, was quite moving and electrifying.
KING: What was it like, Colin, when you met with him in 2003 after the war in Iraq, and he was opposed to that war? What was it like when you had differing views?
POWELL: Well, he was opposed to that war. He was also opposed to the Gulf War in 1991. He was a man of peace. He wanted to see these kinds of problems solved through peaceful means.
But I went to see His Holiness a few months after the war came to its conclusion, we were now in the reconstruction phase. And I was supposed to have a brief ten-minute audience with him, because I was on my way to Sharm-el-Sheikh and on to Aqaba to meet President Bush and participate in the summit that was going to be launching the roadmap toward Middle East peace.
And I went in and greeted His Holiness. And they closed the doors. It was just the two of us. Nobody else was in the room. And the audience lasted for 30 minutes, as I discussed with His Holiness how we were going to move forward on reconstruction and democracy building in Iraq. We talked about the Middle East and what our expectations were of the upcoming summits.
We talked about poverty and disease in Africa. We talked about a great number of things. And of course, he understood English perfectly. He was then an ill man, but he was able to communicate. I was able to understand him very well in English. And it was that same humanness that I had seen in him when I had met him so many years before and that I had witnessed over the years as I watched him travel throughout the world.
KING: He had an enormous sense of personality, didn't he? I mean, he was a communicator.
POWELL: He was a communicator. And he came along at a time when communications was going through a revolution, television, cable channels, the Internet, e-mail, all of this, breaking down barriers that used to exist to keep images and ideas out. And he came along with powerful ideas to send to the world, or communicate to the world, at a time when the world was now able to hear them in an unfettered manner.
And it was not only his presence in these various places around the world, but when he was there, what he was saying and what he was doing was being communicated throughout the world so that nobody was unable to hear his message of peace, and reconciliation, and the dignity of the individual, and the need for us all to live a spiritual life as well as a pragmatic life.
KING: Colin, as a diplomat, how would you rate him diplomatically?
POWELL: I would say that he will go down as one of the most significant political diplomatic figures of the past 50 years, as well as being a great spiritual leader. And I don't mean he was a politician or a diplomat. I just mean that, as a result of his actions, as a result of the message that he took to this hemisphere, to Africa, and took to Poland and Eastern Europe, he was making a political statement, as well as a spiritual statement, a statement of faith.
When he went to Poland, not long after he became Pope, he went home. And he said to them, "Rise up," you know, "stand up for what you believe in." That was a message of faith but it was also a political message which gave encouragement to political forces in Poland and elsewhere behind the Iron Curtain that said, "Your time is coming. This is not the natural state. You should be free. You should not be part of a totalitarian empire."
That was a powerful political statement. People will often say, well, how many, you know, the old remark, "How many divisions does the pope have?" The pope didn't need divisions. He had ideas, and he had a way of now communicating those ideas. And he had a personality and a staged presence, and a presence that I think was fueled and illuminated by his faith and by his belief in God.
KING: So we can say he was an important pope?
POWELL: Yes, very much so. He was an important pope. People are now taking surveys as to whether he was the most important. I think, you know, we'll see what those surveys say. Not many of us knew more than one pope.
But he certainly was an important figure in the Catholic Church. But his papacy went beyond the Catholic Church. He not only touched Catholics. He touched all of us.
And I think that will be shown to be one of his great historical legacies, the fact that he reached beyond his faith, beyond his church, to show us all that we truly belong to ultimately one God and we should remember that as we go about the process of reaching out to one another, helping those in need, living our faith in whatever way we choose to practice it.
KING: Terrific sense of humor, too, right?
POWELL: He was a funny man. He used to have a little joke with me, and I had to really look at him to see how big the smile was when he was saying this, but he would say to me, "Are you related to Baden- Powell, Lord Baden-Powell?" who was the man who formed the Boy Scouts back in the early part of the last century.
And he always would have a little smile on his face, and I had to make sure that he was telling a joke or was he serious. But it was just one of those little humorous exchanges that kept the atmosphere serious but at the same time light.
He was a very humane individual. Even in the beautiful setting of a Vatican room, and he is in his regalia, in his robes, it was always at the same time a simple scene, with somebody who was at the same level as you were, but who was truly a unique figure in world history.
KING: Thanks as always, Colin. Great seeing you. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, former United States chief of staff and a truly great American.
Back with more on the passing of the pope right after this.
KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE.
In Rome is Delia Gallagher, managing editor of "Inside the Vatican," CNN's Vatican analyst; also in Rome, Father Jonathan Morris, vice rector, Seminary of the Legionnaires of Christ. Here in New York is Father Anthony Figueiredo, assistant to the pope from '96 to 2001, now associate professor at Seton Hall University, right across the river at Newark, New Jersey.
In Los Angeles is James Caviezel who played Jesus in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," met with Pope John Paul in March of 2004, devout Roman Catholic, was with us the other evening. It's good to have him back.
And in Washington, an old familiar face, Secretary Jim Nicholson, secretary of Veterans Affairs. He was the former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, presented his credentials to Pope John Paul September 13, 2001, just about a month before 9/11. He was knighted by the pope in October of 2003.
Let's start with you, Jim. What was that assignment like?
JIM NICHOLSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: It was fabulous. It was unique. I used to say to people it's one of the best in the world, and my wife would always correct me and say, "No, it is THE BEST in the world."
And she's probably right, because we get to practice pure diplomacy there. We don't have to worry about trade balance-of- payment issues. We can work on these issues that are so important to the United States and to the Vatican, that is the things that constitute a life of dignity for people, which is the priority of our national security policy, by the way, which is to enhance human dignity.
And we have very common goals with the Vatican, so it was a pleasant, meaningful experience.
KING: You were knighted by the pope? What kind of order is that?
NICHOLSON: Well, it was the Order of Pius IX. And it was interesting, Larry, because it was right in the heat of the imbroglio we were having about Iraq, when they called me and said that the pope wants to knight you.
And I think that he did that because of the work and hopefully the respect that he had for what we were doing in this human dignity fronts and to push President Bush's program in trying to bring religious freedom to more parts of the world, our culture-of-life issues, international terrorist issues.
The pope, by the way, was a real supporter of ours in our efforts against terrorists, and proposed that we review international laws in the context of international terrorists who line themselves through the intestinal walls of sovereign states and then go out and attack people like the United States and then come back.
He gets that. He got that very well. And so we had a big international conference on that in Rome, actually, last year.
KING: Father Figueiredo, who -- you worked with the pope, right?
FATHER FIGUEIREDO, FORMER ASSISTANT TO POPE: I did, yes.
KING: What was that like? FIGUEIREDO: It was fantastic, Larry. I really saw in this man a great witness. What really struck me is that he used to go to the end, despite all the difficulties, all the sufferings.
You know, very often we saw him leaning on that cross of his. And that cross was his strength, because that cross spells what to every one of us, it's an evil. It's something bad. We don't want to embrace it.
And you know, I have one hand, Larry. And I asked the pope one day. I said, "What does this one hand mean?" And he said to me, "You know what you've got to do every night before you go to bed? You've got to take your five fingers and say, 'You did this for me, Jesus.'"
KING: Speaking of carrying the cross, James Caviezel, who had to do that so much in the movie, what was it like -- what did it feel like -- I know you were acting -- but as a devout Catholic, what did it feel like to carry it?
JAMES CAVIEZEL, "THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST": Well, I had my shoulder separated while I was carrying it. And then when they stuck me up there, hypothermia. Just continually in a loin cloth for five to six months of just being totally cold all the time. Father Jonathan was there, and he knows what it was like.
KING: I can only imagine that you must have thought of what it must have been like 2,000 years ago.
CAVIEZEL: Yes. It was extraordinary. And you know, the Holy Father had a lot to do with me playing him. And I always saw the Holy Father as embracing what Christ taught, which is both truth and grace. And he also said something that just blew me away.
He says, "Democracy cannot be sustained with a shared commitment to certain moral truths about the human person and the human community. The basic question before a democratic society is, how ought we to live together? And seeking an answer to this question, can society exclude moral truth and moral reasoning?" And then he just blew me away by saying, "Every generation of Americans needs to know that freedom exists not to do what you like but having the right to do what you ought."
And I used everything that the Holy Father gave me, because he really reached out to my generation. And he's my pope. And I felt that when I met with him.
KING: Jim Nicholson, it'll be some onus on the next one, won't it? This is a tough act to follow.
NICHOLSON: He's redefined the papacy, no question about it, Larry. He's traveled to over 100 countries, visited 1,000 cities. He uses the new arts of communication, telecommunication, the Internet, uses it very effectively.
And his message has spread throughout the world, his message of peace and reconciliation, and reaching out and trying to bring people together. He used to say to me, also, "We have to get these people who are killing in the name of God to stop that."
And so he was very supportive of our efforts against international terrorists and in Afghanistan. And that support continues today from the Vatican, by the way.
KING: Colin Powell said that in history this Pope will be important in the diplomatic area, even though he was not a diplomat. Do you share that view?
NICHOLSON: Indeed, I do, Larry, because, you know, he brought a lot of people together. The hallmark of his accomplishments was bringing down Communism. He did that in concert with President Reagan.
He worked in Europe with us in putting some cruise missiles in to show that the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact nations that we were going to stand up to them. He affirmed the will of many of those then-weak- kneed European leaders that we needed to have these missiles.
He then received briefings by President Reagan's emissary, General Walters, every four or six weeks on the order of battle, the fact they were moving these intermediate-range missiles in there. And we began to conduit things into Poland through him.
And that really was the precursor of our having diplomatic relations with the Holy See. We've only had full diplomatic relations since 1984 when President Reagan said, "I have to have an ambassador over there. This fellow is so important to us in what we're trying to do in bringing down this evil empire." And Senator Lugar and others on the Hill then were finally successful in getting an ambassador confirmed.
KING: Thank you, Secretary. Mr. Secretary Jim Nicholson, good to have you join us.
We'll come back, keeping Jonathan Morris, Anthony Figueiredo, James Caviezel. And we'll have some other guests added, as well. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POPE JOHN PAUL II: Dear friends, Jesus shares with you his teaching ministry. Only in close communion with him can you respond adequately. This is my hope, this is my prayer, that you will be totally open to Christ.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I'm going to ask Jim Caviezel -- Jim, if you would do me a great favor and repeat again the story with the imitation you did the other night -- because so many people have come over to me and talked to me about it -- of your meeting with the pope. We never got to interview the pope, but you had him down pat. So would you tell that story again of what he said to you? CAVIEZEL: Well, long room, like a football stadium, and by the time I walked to him I was out of breath. So I was already intimidated. And now I couldn't say anything, which is probably good.
And he says, "Jim Caviezel. Everybody who does wrong hates the light for fear that his actions may be exposed. But the man who lives in truth comes out into the light so that it may be plainly seen what is done is done in God. Jim Caviezel, what have you done to play Jesus Christ?"
And I said, "Well, Holy Father, I've been hanging out with the Italians a lot lately." He says, "Yes." And then I said, "I'm sorry, I think Jesus was Italian." He says, "What!"
And I said, "Well, hold on, he didn't leave home until he was 30. He always hung out with the same twelve guys, and his mother believed he was God, so he had to be -- you know, he had to Italian." I said, "You're not upset with me, are you?" And he says, "No, I always believed he was Polish."
He's a brilliant guy, you know?
KING: I want to go back to Father Figueiredo who has something with him he wants to show us. And then we'll get to the rest of the members of the panel.
If we can close in on -- what is that?
FIGUEIREDO: Well, one of the things that really struck me about this holy father, Larry, was that he's called us all to be saints. And to be a saint simply means you're an ordinary person but the resurrection of Christ shines in you. It's eternal. There's eternal life in you, divine life.
Now this is a stool of blood of a great saint, Saint Padre Pio...
KING: That's his blood?
FIGUEIREDO: This is his very blood. And the amazing thing about Saint Padre Pio is John Paul II as a young priest went one day to visit Padre Pio. He had a great gift of confessing sins. And Padre Pio knelt down in front of him and said to Father Wojtyla, "One day you will be dressed in white."
And that was an enormous prophecy. It's amazing this century, Larry, because God has raised up Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, a great saint for the poor, Saint Padre Pio, and now, I believe, Saint John Paul the Great.
KING: How did you get this blood?
FIGUEIREDO: Actually, I teach at a seminary. And one of the seminarians gave me this. I hope he's given it to me. I hope he doesn't want it back, because I really sleep by it, I really believe in the communion of saints, that they help us in Heaven, Larry. KING: You're watching LARRY KING LIVE, a special Sunday night edition with a special closing tonight. Charlotte Church will join us to sing a song that she sang for the pope himself.
We'll be right back.
KING: We're back.
Jude Dougherty, dean emeritus, Department of Philosophy at Catholic University, should he be dubbed John Paul the Great?
JUDE DOUGHERTY, DEAN EMERITUS, DEPARTMENT OF PHILOSOPHY AT CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: He may well deserve that title. But I think it's too early to award it. Much will depend on how his literary corpus is indeed received.
This is a man who began everyday that he was in the Vatican in his study producing works that will attest to, as it were, the caliber of the man in the long run. He produced over 20 encyclicals among many other documents. He left a legacy as professor of moral theology and moral philosophy at the University of Lublin and at Krakow.
These works, if they are read -- which he would certainly want. That's why he wrote them. Some of them are great works in the tradition of prior prophets like Leo XIII and Pius XI. These, to the extent that they are received, will guarantee his reputation as John Paul II the Great.
KING: Jim Caviezel, as a layman, but also as an actor, do you feel kind of an affinity owing to the fact that he was an actor?
CAVIEZEL: You know, Larry, it's funny you ask me that. I remember a long time ago I came home and I told my dad, I said, "I think I'm supposed to be an actor." And he says, "You don't want to get into that crap." And I said, "Yes, you're right." And it wouldn't go away.
And then a couple weeks later, he comes up to me, he says, "Hey, you know, the pope was an actor." "Yes, that sounds great," you know? So, yes, I definitely had affinity to him because of that.
And when I was there, he told me to go to the burial site of St. Genesius, who was the patron saint of all actors. And now I'll have another actor that I'll carry with me.
KING: What was he like, Reverend Figueiredo, to work for -- demanding?
FIGUEIREDO: Well, no. I think he was a man with a real destiny. He knew where he wanted to go. He knew where he wanted to take the Church, the world.
But what really struck me, Larry, is on a personal basis he would treat an ordinary person like myself as he would treat a cardinal of the Church or a great head of a nation. He'd spend exactly the same time with every single person. And he'd make you feel as if you were the most important person in his presence.
KING: Rabbi, did he have -- he knew so many Jews who worked with him as a young man in Poland. Did that give him, do you think, a greater affinity with you and with Jewish people?
RABBI ED COHN, TEMPLE SINAI: I think absolutely so, Larry. When we met with him on January the 18th, in the very same hall where he is now lying in state, we had no thought that he would meeting with us individually.
But he gave orders to those who were there, to have us come one at a time before him. And it was such a thrill to be able to thank him for all that he has done in these years to proclaim the message, in a time when there's so much terrorism and fanaticism in religion, to preach the message that God is love.
And he listened to that. He listened to every one of us. And he seemed to be moved as we thanked him for what he has done, unparralled, to condemn anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial, to come to the synagogue in Rome, all of that endears him to the Jewish people. He will always be remembered with enormous love and respect by Jews the world over.
KING: We'll take a break and be back with more on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
KING: Here in New York, we welcome an extraordinary story. We're going to have him back because of limited time tonight. Gilbert Levine, the American maestro, called `the pope's conductor.' In fact, he's wearing a little red button on his lapel, which is what?
GILBERT LEVINE, POPE JOHN PAUL II'S PERSONAL CONDUCTOR FOR 17 YEARS: Pontifical Knighthood of St. Gregory.
KING: You were knighted by the pope?
LEVINE: By the pope.
KING: I don't imagine many conductors have this?
LEVINE: No, it is the highest pontifical knighthood accorded a musician in 200 years.
KING: The pope's tailor made your jacket?
LEVINE: The pope's tailor made my jacket.
KING: Not the pope, but the pope... KING: How did you meet, a Jewish boy from Brooklyn, with a pope from Poland?
LEVINE: I went to Krakow in 1987 as the music director of the Krakow Philharmonic. And "Newsweek" was banned. And in fact, it was circulated to 200 people, one of whom was the cardinal archbishop, the successor to the pope. He read the article about me in "Newsweek," cut it out, sent it to the pope. The pope asked to see me. To make a long story short, in February 1988 I went from meeting zero Catholic priests, to meeting the pope, in the space of about two months.
KING: And then with this collaboration, how did that happen?
LEVINE: We met in his private library. I was told that I would probably, by meeting the pope, have a picture taken, and I would have been absolutely thrilled and it would have been a thrill of a lifetime. Instead of that, he sat me down in this private library, talked to me about Krakow, talked to me about the Krakow Philharmonic. We became two citizens of the city -- he, of course, of long standing, and myself new.
And then he started talking about the war and the Holocaust. And what it meant for him. And as he was leaving that audience, he goes to the door, and without saying anything, turns to me and says, "See you at your concert." I had no idea what he was talking about. Absolutely no idea.
Six months later, I was invited to conduct a concert for his 10th anniversary as pope. And that began a relationship in December 1988 which continued until...
KING: What did you do in the ensuing years? You conducted for him many times?
LEVINE: The first concert I conducted for him was a concert of Christian music, Catholic music -- of course, it was the 10th anniversary of his pontificate.
When I went back to Krakow, Krakow being so close to Auschwitz, my mother-in-law being an Auschwitz survivor in the Holocaust, who lost her entire family in the war. And I felt like there was something more to my being there in relation to my having met the pope and conducted for the pope. And I went to him in the fall of 1991 and said, you know, I was doing a concert in the synagogue in Krakow, and he became fascinated by that. And I said, wow, there's something going on here. And I suggested a year later that we do a concert to commemorate the Holocaust.
I was going to invite him. There are showov (ph) -- commemorative concerts. I was going to organize one in Rome.
LEVINE: He invited me to do it in the Vatican. And by turning it into the Vatican event, it became a papal event. And what he did at that occasion was unbelievable. There were three chairs, the chief rabbi, the president of Italy and the pope, all on three equal thrones. The six candle candelabra of the showov (ph) lit in the Vatican. It was unbelievable.
KING: Were you nervous?
LEVINE: No, I was terrified. I wasn't nervous. I was terrified. But, in fact, on the day of the first concert I conducted with him in 1998, after the rehearsal, he invites me up to meet him. And I couldn't figure out why. And he comes up to me and in a conspiratorial tone, he said, "are you nervous? Have you heard enough rehearsal?" I said, "why?" He said, "because the pope is coming tonight. I heard the pope is coming tonight."
KING: How good was the Krakow Philharmonic?
LEVINE: The Krakow Philharmonic was an excellent orchestra. I had heard them in Boston Symphony Hall, and I was very, very impressed with them. But it was not -- unfortunately it wasn't with the Krakow Philharmonic that I conducted those concerts.
KING: How much of music did he understand?
LEVINE: Wonderfully. So much so that I, as a Jewish conductor, suggested for that 1994 concert that I do a work of Mahler. And he said, "didn't Mahler convert to Catholicism to become the music director of the Vienna Philharmonic?" I as a musician didn't -- didn't think of that. It's not that I didn't know it, I didn't think of it. That's the kind of sensitivity he had to Jewish issues.
And he wanted to broaden it out. And what happened was he felt like it was a -- music could be a vehicle for inter-faith dialogue.
KING: The pope congratulated your children's bar mitzvahs?
LEVINE: Not only congratulated, he sent us a menorah.
KING: He sent you a menorah?
LEVINE: He gave it to us, actually, didn't send it. Actually gave us a menorah. I think it's from the 16th century in Prague. It's the most beautiful menorah. He sent a letter on the occasion of each of my son's bar mitzvah. He also had the cardinal in charge of Catholic/Jewish relations send a letter that was read out in my Orthodox shul on the occasion of my son's recent bar mitzvah, and the rabbi read it as if it were from a rabbi. At the end, it said, "it's by Rabbi Joel Schwartz (ph)." He said, but it wasn't by Rabbi Joel Schwartz (ph). It was by Rabbi -- by Cardinal Casper.
It was astounding. It was a letter that said, you should be proud of your Jewish heritage and live it out to its full.
KING: Where have you been? Why have we just found you? You conduct all over?
LEVINE: Yes. I conduct all over, and I conducted for him in the Vatican many times. I conducted also for him at World Youth Day in Denver. Me, conducting for Catholic youth? And on that occasion, he came over to me and disrupted the entire performance, put his arm around me and said, did I disturb you, Maestro? And he had in fact stopped the whole show.
KING: Are you going to the funeral?
LEVINE: Of course. I am leaving tomorrow morning. And I will be at the funeral. I couldn't not be there.
KING: Do you think you might be asked to do something musical?
LEVINE: No, I'm going there to mourn my friend. And I say that with great reverence. And it would never be something I would say when he was alive, but I felt he was my mentor. He was an incredible sustenance to me.
KING: What a story. What a story. How fortunate you are. Will you come back?
LEVINE: I feel blessed. I would love to come back.
KING: I would like to do a whole show with you. What a great story this is. I haven't even heard.
Thank you so much.
LEVINE: You're very welcome.
KING: Gilbert Levine, the American maestro, the pope's conductor.
KING: To close our program, the brilliant Charlotte Church, in London, will sing the song she sang for this pope, "Brad of Angels."
CHARLOTTE CHURCH, SINGER: (SINGS).
KING: We hope you found this as fascinating as we did, as we look back at a very fascinating life.
Stay tuned now for a special "CNN PRESENTS: THE LAST DAYS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II." Good night.
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