An outside observer would say Msgr. Peter Quang Nguyen has a knack for meeting popes.
His office at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Denver is lined with photos of him shaking hands with Pope Francis, receiving a blessing from Blessed John Paul II and a picture of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
“I could never believe someday I would see the Holy Father, who has the spirit of Ignatius of Loyola but has the heart of St. Francis,” he said about Pope Francis.
This year, Msgr. Quang flew to Rome knowing he’d have a chance to be in the receiving line to meet the pontiff. While staying in the Domus Sanctae Marthae (St. Martha’s House), which is adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica, he was eating lunch in the refectory when Pope Francis walked in wearing a white cassock. He invited the Denver priest to join him for lunch.
“He was just so friendly,” he said.
With other guests, he shared where he was visiting from and they chatted through a translator.
“Later on the pope changed languages and said, ‘Maybe we can use French.’ Then I could carry on a conversation with him a little bit.”
Msgr. Quang had much he wanted to say—“I thought I could tell him a thousand things, but at that moment I was mute. I don’t know if I really enjoyed the meal I was so nervous,” he said.
He did muster to tell the pope one thing.
“All I could say is, ‘We love you.’”
He brought a papal blessing back to his parish and school.
In about 2004, Msgr. Quang visited the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome while on pilgrimage. He said he was moving back to get a better view of the larger-than-life baroque statues of the apostles when he met the emeritus pope, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
“I kept moving backwards and I ran into him,” he said.
They greeted each other and talked briefly.
“I then had a chance to express my appreciation for his writings and the beauty of the theology,” Msgr. Quang said.
A year later, the cardinal was named the next vicar of Christ.
It was in 1993 that Msgr. Quang, then a recently-ordained priest, met Blessed John Paul II during his stay at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Denver for World Youth Day.
“My first impression was he’s just amazing. Here’s this guy who survived the suffering of communism. It gave me a sense of courage, of hope,” said the priest who also escaped the communism of his homeland in Vietnam.
Meeting the popes was a blessing, he said.
“It just helped me to appreciate what we have in our daily life,” Msgr. Quang said.