Family reflects on Pope John Paul’s Vermont ties

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(Host) Twenty-five years ago Thursday, cardinals meeting in Rome elected Pope John Paul II the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Even before he became the most traveled pope in history, John Paul had paid a memorable visit to a farm in Vermont.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The large color photographs on the walls of her North Pomfret farmhouse attest to Anna Teresa Houthakker’s long friendship with Pope John Paul II. In one she’s greeting the him shortly after he became pope a quarter of a century ago. Another shows her standing next to the pope as he poses with a group from her church that made a pilgrimage to the Vatican three years ago. Over the years she’s visited the pope many times and keeps up a regular correspondence with him.

The two met in their native Poland in 1972. The pope was then Cardinal Karol Joseph Wojtyla, archbishop of Krakow. A philosopher and academic, Houthakker helped Wojtyla translate a book he’d written. Four years later, in July of 1976, Wojtyla visited the United States. He was invited to lecture at Harvard where Houthakker’s husband Hendrick was a professor. Before his Harvard appearance, the couple invited him to visit their home in Vermont.

(Houthakker) “And so he came here before to relax and review his talk. We were reading together his lecture to make it more dramatic.”

(Zind) A month later, Wojtyla spent five more days relaxing in North Pomfret. A photograph taken during his visit shows the future pope in a tee shirt and shorts. He is looking at the camera, a slight smile on his face.

(Houthakker) “He was relaxing and enjoying nature. He was walking and saying his breviary on the trunk of a fallen tree on the meadow and sunning himself on the meadow. Picking wild berries, swimming….”

(Zind) Houthakker says the hills and fields of Pomfret reminded the pope of his home in Poland. While visiting, he conducted a daily, early morning Mass for the family under a plum tree in the backyard.

After his election as pope, the Houthakkers erected a rough-hewn stone under the tree, etched with the dates of his visit.

(Houthakker) “In the beginning when we put it up, we had truckloads of pilgrims to come and to see it, but now no more.”

(Zind) Houthakker thinks that one day pilgrims will return to this farm in South Pomfret. She believes in time the pope will be made a Saint for his tireless work despite his failing health in recent years.

(Houthakker) “So, I consider him a real martyr of the faith. He’s sacrificing himself to perform his duties and to bring to the world as much good inspiration as the world is capable of receiving. I think he will be very promptly beatified and canonized and then this place will become a sanctuary.”

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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