A Conversation with the Archbishop: Cardinal Dolan Interviews Andreas Widmer
Posted by jullrich on Jun 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm
A note from Andreas: I had the great pleasure and honor to be interviewed by Cardinal Dolan recently. What follows is the transcript. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did the opportunity to spend time with the Cardinal. – AW
Host: On this edition of a Conversation with the Archbishop, we are joined right here in person by Andreas Widmer. He is the author of The Pope and The CEO, John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard. He is also the co-founder of SEVEN Fund, a philanthropic organization run by entrepreneurs, who invest in original research, books, films, and websites to further enterprise solutions to poverty. Welcome to a Conversation with the Archbishop, Andreas Widmer.
Cardinal Dolan: Andreas, Welcome!
AW: Thanks for having me.
Cardinal Dolan: <speaks in German> Congratulations on the book, it is stunning. Get biographical first, would you Andreas? You were a Swiss Guard when?
AW: I joined the Swiss Guards in 1986, so a couple of moons ago.
Cardinal Dolan: And how long was your service?
AW: I did two years. The minimum service is for two years, you are trained for two years, and that’s what I did. I met my wife there, and I left and followed her here to the United States.
Cardinal Dolan: Did you marry an Italian girl?
AW: No, an American girl. Much better.
Cardinal Dolan: <laughter> Where did you meet her?
AW: She studied at Loyola University.
Cardinal Dolan: Oh okay! And where are you living now?
AW: In Boston.
Cardinal Dolan: Your work though, your claim – a somewhat novel claim if I don’t mind saying – is that watching Blessed Pope John Paul II in action taught you quite a bit about business leadership skills. And now you are sharing this with others. In other words, he taught you not only supernatural lessons, but some natural lessons. Give us some of those.
AW: I became a Christian because of John Paul. So I am a revert in that sense. I didn’t go into the Swiss Guards for religious reasons, I went in because I thought being a body guard was about the coolest thing you can do. And it is!
Cardinal Dolan: And folks, if you could see Andreas, you’d know he’d be doing that well. He’s a big guy.
AW: When I met this man, it changed my world. This is a true Christian witness. The effect of meeting him was me watching him and saying, “You know what? Whatever that man has, I want. I want to be like him.”
Cardinal Dolan: So as Swiss Guard, you are with him from the moment he leaves his private apartment to begin his day. It’s not just ceremonial; you are around all the time.
Host: It’s like Secret Service with the President of the United States.
Cardinal Dolan: What were some of the things that he taught you about leadership and about human dynamics?
AW: The simplest one of them, yet the most profound lesson, (I describe in the book) is to be present in the moment. It’s a little story of how I met him for the first time. It was Christmas Eve and it was one of my first assignments to work up in the papal apartment, to be the last guard before him. But you know, I was twenty years old, and to my family Christmas Eve is the big event not Christmas day – in Switzerland, and in Italy too. I was in tough shape, and I said why did I ever come here? What am I doing? And I was just above the Pope’s apartment in a little room and it’s just you in there, nobody comes through. And I cried.
Cardinal Dolan: You were homesick.
AW: Homesick and in just horrible shape. And then the commander called me and said the Pope is going to leave the apartment, he’s going to use your exit. So I unlock the door, and he comes out and he sees me and says, “Hey, you’re new, what’s your name?” I told him, and when he came closer, he grabbed my hand and he noticed my red eyes. And he said, “Of course, this is your first Christmas away from home.” That was the wrong thing to say to me then. I teared up, and he held my hand and said to me, “You know, Andreas, I want to thank you for the sacrifice you are making here today. I will pray for you.”
Cardinal Dolan: Wow.
AW: So this is my first interaction with this man.
Cardinal Dolan: So he saw the red in your eyes as a Swiss Guard. See, the Irish would have had bloodshot eyes. He knew you weren’t an Irish guard, you were a Swiss Guard. <laughter>
AW: As far as leadership is concerned, I go on in life and reflect upon my experience with him. How many of us know the parking attendant’s name? Do they have kids? What are their concerns? Are they happy, are they sad? The receptionist at my company. I know this person’s name and how they’re doing. But would I know if they were sad that day? John Paul, when he spoke to you, made you feel like you were the reason he got up in the morning. That is an example of servant leadership, of being present in the moment; to what’s in front of you or who’s in front of you, more importantly. That is a lesson that will last me for a lifetime: being present in the moment.
Cardinal Dolan: Sure, sure. Now you were with him for two years, probably not a day would go by that you wouldn’t see him.
AW: I would see him on a very regular basis. I was a normal soldier, so I never traveled with him. You needed to be one of the veterans.
Cardinal Dolan: More trained.
AW: Exactly. So after this one meeting here, we always picked back up. He always knew who I was and I always felt very special. Now of course I talk to the other guys and they all felt that way, which is again, a measure of his human presence and how much he cared.
Cardinal Dolan: Now again, if you don’t mind me asking, you said it’s because of that that your faith is rekindled, because of his example?
AW: John Paul prayed the rosary a lot and I was once standing right in front guarding him, and he was on a kneeler. Here I am this tough kid, twenty years old. I was covering my insecurity with physical strength, but I always had this uneasiness inside me. And as he prayed, I started to feel differently. At first I thought, he’s faking it. And then I was like, hold on a minute, how come I feel differently if he’s faking it? He’s not even here for me. And I started to tell some of the people around him. And they must have said something, and one day he walks by and gives me the rosary and says, “You know, this prayer is my favorite prayer. This is a learned thing to do, this is not something that some people can do and others not. Everybody can do this. I want you to start praying.” My first reaction was, “Look, my grandmother prays the rosary, I’m not going to.” And one of his aides said, “What do you have to lose, you’re standing around all day. You can just have the rosary in your pocket and pray and nobody will know.”
Cardinal Dolan: A rosary in one hand and a spear in the other as a Swiss Guard.
AW: That’s right! And I’ll tell you which one is more powerful weapon!
Cardinal Dolan: <laughter> That’s right, Andreas!
AW: And I started to pray, and I am telling you, that was my conversion moment of having an experience of the presence of God. It was like rekindling my baptismal fire, if you wish.
Cardinal Dolan: The Swiss Guard are Catholics, only Catholics are allowed in the service, but they don’t give you a test for your fervor. And it’s a form of civil service in Switzerland.
AW: It’s not in line with the Swiss because Switzerland is a Protestant country, but they tolerate us for doing this. We are a foreign legion. You give up the passport while you are there, but you get it back afterwards. The tests are physical tests, there’s no litmus test other than saying you have to be baptized and confirmed. We have an ex-guard society, and there’s always a debate saying, “Let’s see how strong a Catholic they are.” And I always speak up saying that they would have never taken me had they made a test of that. So many of my friends had conversions, and finding their vocation into all different states in life.
Cardinal Dolan: Interesting, Andreas, and see if I am right on this one because I have nowhere near your experience. In the seven happy years that I had as rector in the North American College of Rome, and I have always said it was sort of a fifty yard box seat on the pontificate of John Paul II, you were talking about the impact of watching him. I always enjoyed watching the people and the effect that he had on the people. You could have the most hard-boiled, cynical person and once they were in the presence of the Pope, their demeanor would change. You found that didn’t you? The excitement, the hope, the sparkle in people’s eyes, the immediate smile. Right?
AW: His loving truth. He is a witness to the truth, but he did this in love. I was there when General Jaruzelski came to visit him, the Polish General who put martial law in place in Poland. And I was there in the room where he had to wait, and I am telling you, the guy’s knees were shaking. John Paul was basically holding him and walking with him in a loving way. Jaruzelski had the same experience that I had on Christmas Eve when I met him.
Cardinal Dolan: And I say this too, and everyone talks about John Paul II, but any Pope has that effect. I was a student with Paul VI, and most people think of him as an austere Pope but he would excite crowds. The same way with Benedict XVI. But I think we all have to admit that John Paul had something exceptional.
AW: He did.
Cardinal Dolan: And you saw him in his vibrant days when he was still strong and healthy.
AW: I would visit on a regular basis later and I would see him once in a while, but nothing like before. But you know, the witness he gave to my life. And he was aware that I found my faith there and when I left he said, “You found Christ here. Now go and bring this Christ into the world, bring Him with you and hand it on.” As a Swiss Guard, you are very blessed in a sense that you become somebody without ever really having done anything. You get a prestige through no fault of your own. He passed away and within 24 hours, I was in the room where he was prepared to lay in state, and I was praying at his remains and thought, “Why me? Why do I have this privilege?” And I sort of heard back saying, “Yes, why you? And what are you going to do with this?” It’s like anybody in any leadership position, in any area of your life. Around Christmas time, we look back at our year and say, “I’m so blessed.” God’s response to that is, “Yes, you’re so blessed. Now what are you going to do with that?”
Cardinal Dolan: How true.
AW: Are you going to keep it or are you going to use it for others? It’s like with any blessing – money, connections, power – what are you going to do with this? And that was the call to me to share these lessons that I’ve had in my mind for a long time about him. Let me stand up and share them, and as an average business person, to stand up in witness to this.
Host: That’s what I think I find fascinating about the book because I’ve certainly been with many fellow priests and when we’re in seminary, we’re like, “Boy, we’re going to have to run things like businesses, and I’m not really trained for that.” And I think people are surprised to hear a priest, a bishop, a pope, they do have something to share with the business community. What were some of the other lessons that you’ve included in the book about business leadership?
AW: A very simple lesson is – We talk about servant leadership, and I don’t want people to get the wrong impression that somehow I am saying the market economy or profit is not a good thing. I am a staunch supporter of both of those things. Profit is one way to measure how well you are using the resources given to you, but there are other measures. As far as servant leadership is concerned, in Italian they say I love you in saying, “Ti voglio bene,” which translates to “I want your good” or “I want well for you.” This is a much better way to say, “I love you.” A less selfish way. In my book, I am saying that you should love your employees, in that love of saying, “I want your good.” How do you want the good of your employees, your customers, your shareholders? What is the good you want for them, and what are you going to do about it? I go into this in detail and specific things you can do at work. And being Swiss, I can’t just write a book in philosophical terms, there’s an exercise at the end of every chapter. I wanted the book to be actionable. So at the end of reading a chapter, there’s something for you to implement or do. And the two things that the book focuses on is first, the vocation – we have the universal, primary, and secondary vocation. And I am explaining that in a light way and to show, how do I discern that in a very straightforward way. And then specifically, as far as your work is concerned, the secondary vocation, how do you do this? One half of the book is about vocation, the other half is about leadership because we’re all called to be leaders in one way or the other, and we’re all there to be servant leaders. How do you implement that? And how do you make a priority of your leadership? Of who you are leading, why and how? And hopefully the book will inspire people in taking on that servant leadership.
Cardinal Dolan: I agree. The Pope and The CEO by Andreas Widmer. It is put out by Emmaus Road publishing, isn’t it Andreas?
AW: Yes. Actually, it’s a funny story. The book, in the beginning, you can see I am talking a lot, right? And when I write, I do the same thing. So the manuscript was actually more like 800 pages. They trimmed me, okay? The compromise was that I would put the rest on the website. The website is thepopeandtheceo.com and I put all kinds of stuff on there. Because the point of this book is for me to share this with you. One way is to share it with the book, but I invite you to come to my website because all of this stuff is on there. Come to thepopeandtheceo.com and have fun, there’s a ton of material on there.
Cardinal Dolan: It sort of strikes me as the Dale Carnegie for Catholic leadership under the inspiration of the Blessed John Paul II. How to win friends and influence people. Well done, Andreas. Congratulations, what a good book, it would be a good Christmas present. Can I keep this one?
Cardinal Dolan: Thank you, a blessed Christmas.
Host: You should get some guards like this.
Cardinal Dolan: Yes, will you walk in in front of me at midnight mass?
AW: I don’t fit into my uniform anymore.
Cardinal Dolan: Neither do I.