The other day I attended a party launching The Pope and the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard, by Andreas Widmer. Most book parties are chit-chat, with little said about the actual occasion for celebration. This was different. Widmer, a towering and charismatic presence, answered questions about his book from a delighted audience for nearly an hour. His stories of John Paul II’s impact on his life were fascinating and inspiring.
Widmer was raised in a thoroughly secular atmosphere in Switzerland. (Yes, the Swiss Guard is really Swiss.) Soon after he joined up, Widmer pulled Christmas Eve duty as the innermost of the Pope’s many layers of protection. This very tall and physically tough young soldier away from home for the first time during Christmas was quietly weeping with homesickness just outside the Pope’s personal chamber that night. Widmer’s job was to make sure the Pope’s quarters stayed securely locked till John Paul was ready to exit them; in other words, to be sure the Pope stayed locked in.
Amazingly, it never crossed Widmer’s mind that the honor of serving as John Paul’s inner-guard might be the most extraordinary, devout, and memorable way he could possibly have spent his first Christmas away from home. That’s how irreligious Widmer was. The Swiss guard has always been made up of mercenaries. There is no test of devotion, so somewhere around half the guard consists of Euro-secularists. But more than a few times, what happened to Widmer happens to secular members of the Guard.
When Widmer finally unlocked the door and allowed the Pope to exit his Chamber–with the soldier all the while struggling to hide his homesick tears–the conversion experience began. How the Pope responded to his guardian that night was the beginning of Widmer’s new life.
There’s a lot in this book about John Paul II the man, observed close up. But The Pope and the CEO also includes Widmer’s later struggles as a businessman who went from success and wealth to financial disaster, and back again, all the while learning how to integrate and reconcile faith and everyday life–”the crucifix and the BlackBerry”–as Mary Eberstadt puts it in her very positive NR review of the book (subscriber only). If Widmer’s enthralling performance at a stand-out book party is any indication, you’re going to like his work.