HORNER: Inspiration to last a lifetime

Columnist Neil Horner relates a story about his first assignment in journalism school

Seeing as it wouldn’t be entirely inaccurate to define my religious leanings as evangelical atheism, I would probably be one of the last people you would expect to have received inspiration from the pope.

Not this last pontiff of course. I was never able to get past his past membership in the Nazi Youth, quite apart from any role he may or may not have played in the church’s coverup of multiple sex crimes against children. The sooner he retires into his prosecutorial safe haven within the walls of the Vatican City, the better.

I’m talking about the last guy, John Paul II.

My one and only dealing with the late pontiff took place way back in 1984, but I remember it to this day.

I had just started journalism school. I wasn’t sure if it was for me, but at 24, I knew I had to do something with my life.

It was a one-year certificate course, quick and dirty, so we had to get off and running in a big hurry.

Our instructor, Charles Giordano, did just that. After introductions and a few basics, we were given our first assignment.

We were still barely gelling as a class, me with the unfortunate punker haircut, leatherette pants and checkerboard shoes, the older lady who liked to write, the flouncy popster gal, the owlish one, the kinda freaky, weird guy, a couple of studious worker bees — a real mix. No time to waste though. Chop chop! The pope was coming to Abbotsford on Sept. 18.

We could choose any angle we wanted, but each of us had to write something about it.

We all took it very seriously. We were new and fresh-faced pups, eager to please and everyone knew this was a first test to see what we could do.

After class I went to the library and read article after article, anything I could get my hands on about the pope and Catholicism in general. I stayed at it until closing time and I did so for several nights after that.

The day of the pope’s visit, we all got off class, but I wasn’t among the 200,000 people who flocked to the event. My assignment was finished and handed in. As I recall, I spent the day at The Cecil.

It took a few days for Charlie to mark all the assignments, but when he did, it was an eye-opener.

Many people had written of the amazing sense of oneness, of so many, many people joining together in common cause and belief. It was uplifting, beautiful.

There was a lot of that, he said.

But there was one piece, he continued, that he wanted to read out to the class.

And then he began to read my article, which didn’t gush about the oneness of it all, but rather delved into the relationship between this pontiff and his flock, citing sources who suggested his unbending views on birth control and the role of women in the church was badly out of sync with the vast majority of Catholic laity. If this were to continue, I concluded, he took the risk of the papacy becoming increasingly irrelevant.

“A well written and well researched piece,” Charlie said. “Well done.”

Of course it was gratifying to be singled out in this way, but what happened next really sealed the deal.

A young, blonde classmate sitting next to me  turned, her eyes spitting ice and hissed, “How could you? How COULD you?”

And it was at that moment the penny dropped.

“Hmmmm,” I thought. “You know, I’m really gonna like this job.”

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