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On Crayons and Conversion
U. S. A. | NEWS | NEWS
Andreas Widmer talks about what he has learned while serving as a member of the Swiss Guard protecting John Paul II

Crayons

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.

Who did he tell his listeners is his favorite artist? 
Andreas Widmer
Andreas Widmer
His eight-year-old son Eli.

“My office is full of his pictures,” he said.

“I travel 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!” 

“Should I use red? Should I use blue? Should I use yellow?” asks Eli.

“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 me.”

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 II.  

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.”

December 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 and the Pope
Andreas met Pope John Paul II on Christmas Eve his first night on duty with the Swiss Guard
night.”

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 sheep.”

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.

“I was a cradle Catholic,” he said, though he was not “really practicing.”

“I didn’t understand,” he said. “I didn’t know who the pope really was.  I didn’t know who Jesus Christ really was.”

On the 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 line.”

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?’

“I told him I had to work. He said ‘Of all things, the Vatican should know its Christmas!’

“My mother heard our conversation and grabbed the phone.  She started crying.  And when my mother cries, I cry.” 

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.

“If anyone tried to get to the Pope, they had to go through me,” he said.

“In those 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 baby.” 

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 do.

“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 from home.’

“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!”

Living Life to the Full

Widmer’s relationship with John Paul
Andreas speaks to students
Andreas asked the Everest students if they saw their lives as something to offer to God
II developed from there. 

“You 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.”

At 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 college?”

But he would soon realize God wanted him to make those choices.  “This is what a vocation is about.” 

“You 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.

“On the day of your conception, God said I am going to do something I never did before. I’m going to create you.

“He created everything about you. You are a masterpiece – unique.  That’s how special you are.”

He told them, whatever they choose to do, to give it their all.

“You don’t 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 him.”


PUBLICATION DATE: 2012-11-20


 
 


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Sponsored by the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement, Copyright 2011, Legion of Christ. All rights reserved.


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