God…called man into existence, committing to him the
craftsman´s task. Through his “artistic creativity” man appears
more than ever “in the image of God,” and he
accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous “material”
of his own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over
the universe which surrounds him. Pope John Paul II’s
“Letter to Artists,” 1999
Whether he has ever read
this document written by the late Pope John Paul II
or not, Andreas Widmer appears to be quite familiar with
what it says.
The imposingly tall (6 foot 9 inches) soft-spoken Swiss
gentleman is a professor at Catholic University in Washington, DC,
and a sought-after motivational speaker, sharing his wisdom for success
in business and in life. November 15, 2012,
he addressed a meeting of the Detroit Chapter of Legatus, and on the morning of the same day, he
took the time to talk to high school students from
Everest Collegiate in Clarkston, Michigan.
he tell his listeners is his favorite artist?
His eight-year-old son Eli.
“My office is full
of his pictures,” he said.
a lot, all around the world. I feel
guilty that I’m not home much with my wife Michelle
and my son Eli. So I bring my
son a gift every time I come home -- a
really nice box of crayons.”
Widmer said his
son always asks, “What do you want me to draw?” Widmer tells him, “I don’t know.
But I will give you paper. Draw with
all you have!”
use red? Should I use blue? Should I use yellow?”
“Use all the colors!”
Widmer does not care what his son chooses to
draw. “The only two things I care about are that
he gives it his best, and he draws it for
This is exactly the same type of
thing that God wants from all of us, Widmer says. In life, we are all called to “paint
our picture, and give it to God.”
First Christmas Away from Home
Widmer learned this wisdom as a young man
in his 20s, when he served as a member of
the Swiss Guard that protects the Pope. From
1986-1988, he was a body guard for Pope John Paul
Widmer met John Paul
II for the first time on the night of December
24, during his first assignment in the guard. He said
he got up that morning in the barracks and went
downstairs to find his name on the assignment board. He was to guard the Pope’s apartment that night.
“Of all nights!” he said. “I couldn’t believe
it! I was really down and frustrated.”
24 is the night Europeans celebrate Christmas. “In
my family on this night we would get together and
trim the tree, have dessert after midnight, and celebrate all
|Andreas met Pope John Paul II on Christmas Eve his first night on duty with the Swiss Guard|
Widmer grew up in a village of
400 people, the youngest of 6 children. He
called himself the male version of the film Heidi. “I grew up outside running around with cows and
Then a friend of his told him
about being a “body guard” in the Swiss Guard.
“I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ So
I went to the office and signed up.”
When he was told he would be protecting the Pope,
he had no problem with that.
a cradle Catholic,” he said, though he was not “really
“I didn’t understand,” he said. “I didn’t
know who the pope really was. I didn’t
know who Jesus Christ really was.”
day he found out he had to work on Christmas
Eve, he was in line to get his “free phone
call” home. “There was no texting or Internet or cell
phones in those days,” he said. “There was one telephone
for 115 guys, and we all had to stand in
Widmer said as he was waiting, he
got more and more upset.
“When it was my turn, my father answered the phone.
They hadn’t heard from me since I left. He asked,
‘So how are you celebrating Christmas?’
him I had to work. He said ‘Of all things,
the Vatican should know its Christmas!’
heard our conversation and grabbed the phone. She
started crying. And when my mother cries, I
Widmer said he was
mortified in front of all the men.
“I told her I had to go, and that was
the only time I ever hung up on my mom.”
Then he put on his
uniform and went to work.
Most people have
the misconception that the Pope lives in a palace. Widmer said the pontiff actually lives in a two-room
apartment on the top of the palace. He
explained there is a room at the entrance of the
apartment for the Swiss Guard member on duty.
The door to the room is locked, as is the
door that leads to the Pope’s apartment.
anyone tried to get to the Pope, they had to
go through me,” he said.
days, I was physically very active and fit.”
But inside, Widmer said he felt like a 7-year-old boy
who missed his mom. He was alone on
Christmas in a dark room lit by a single lamp.
“I was very insecure in those days. I
started thinking, ‘Nobody cares. What did I get myself into?
Any minute they are going to find you out. You’re not so tough.”
“All my bravado fell away. I started crying like a
Then his radio went
off. “The Pope is going to celebrate midnight Mass –
let him out.”
So Widmer unlocked the door. He saw a man in a white cassock
step through the huge doorway. “Warm light flooded in, and
he stepped in and looked at me. He pointed at
me and said ‘You are new. I’ve never seen you.’”
Widmer told the Pope his name and where
he was from, just like he had been trained to
“He stretched out his hand,” said Widmer.
“He looked into my red eyes. I knew
then and there – my cover was blown.”
But Widmer said John Paul asked him no questions. “He
just said, ‘Of course, this is your first Christmas away
“He pulled me in and looked
at me with those deep, light grey eyes.
He said, ‘I really appreciate that you are doing this. I’m glad you are here. I
am going to pray for you during midnight Mass.’”
Widmer said it was like he was telling that
7-year-old boy everything was going to be OK.
“I thought, ‘And I’m protecting him!”
to the Full
Widmer’s relationship with John Paul
II developed from there.
|Andreas asked the Everest students if they saw their lives as something to offer to God|
probably only remember John Paul II as old and frail,”
he told his rapt audience of high schoolers.
“But when I knew him he was young.
He went hiking and came to parties with us. I thought, whatever that guy has, I wanted it. He lived life to the full.”
Widmer said John Paul II would advise his guards on
how to become saints. “It is straight forward – not
that difficult. It all has to do with control –
what I ought to do, as opposed to what I
feel like doing. With our free will, we
can control our actions.”
Widmer said he was
converted to his faith because of his relationship with the
Pope, coming to realize that God actually exists.
“It blew my mind when I realized
this. I started to pray.”
that time, he was just like his son Eli.
“I asked God, What do you want me to
do with my life? Should I go to
But he would soon realize God wanted
him to make those choices. “This is what
a vocation is about.”
have a lot of freedom with your crayons,” he said.
“I almost flunked out of school. But I
have a talent for language and for people.
I can speak to people and I can sell. I can lead.”
Widmer would later succeed
at sales and management at several software companies, and founded
the SEVEN Fund, which promotes enterprise solutions to poverty. He became a frequent blogger for www.thepopeandtheceo.com as
well as an author. His book, The
Pope and the CEO, helps professionals to find balance and
live an integrated life.
Widmer encouraged the Everest
students to realize their own potential.
day of your conception, God said I am going to
do something I never did before. I’m going to create
“He created everything about you. You are
a masterpiece – unique. That’s how special you
He told them, whatever they choose to
do, to give it their all.
start a business and not want to make a profit. Profit is not bad. When you
plant a tree, you expect it to produce fruit. The question is, ´Do you see the fruit as
something you offer to God?”
He promised them,
if they give all they have, God will not be
outdone in generosity.
“Jesus Christ painted the most
beautiful picture in the world, and it was so beautiful
we killed him for it. What is the last thing
he did with his life? He gave his
painting to His Father.
And in three days,
God gave it back to him. In less
than 3 days, he gave his entire life back to