'Among Great Popes in History' Hyde, Hastert Moved during Private Meetings with Pontiff
Krol, Eric, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Eric Krol Daily Herald Political Writer
Congressman Henry Hyde met Pope John Paul II at least four times during the past quarter-century, but it's the last time that stands out for him.
"The pope says Mass at 6 in the morning and has a very select few attend that Mass. I was able to get an invitation to go, and I read the Gospel during the first reading during the Mass," Hyde, a Republican from Wood Dale, said of his opportunity a few years ago. "I must say, with the Holy Father within 10 feet of me, I was quite nervous. But it was a memorable event."
Among suburban politicians, Hyde and House Speaker Dennis Hastert each had coveted private audiences with the pope, who died Saturday at the age of 84. Recalling those meetings, Hyde and Hastert say John Paul II will be remembered most for helping bring about the downfall of communism.
"I thanked him for his leadership in the world and his strong stand for moral values and helping the idea of individual justice and freedom come about," said Hastert, who led a January 2001 delegation to present the pope with the Congressional Gold Medal. "I didn't say this (to him), but my personal view, with the insight and strength of Ronald Reagan and the pope, there are millions of people who are walking around free today who wouldn't have had a chance to do it."
Hyde, who has a picture of himself and the pope hanging in his Capitol Hill office, said John Paul II will "rank among the great popes in history."
"I think because of this pope's tenure during the Cold War and when Communism was threatening Europe, his leadership and standing up to Marxism will stand out historically," he said.
Hyde first met the pope in 1981 as the pontiff returned from a trip to Japan and briefly touched down on American soil in Anchorage, Alaska, during a layover. …