Paula John (third from left) and her mother, Erica P. John (third from right), traveled to Rome to meet Pope Francis as members of the Stewards of St. Peter. (Submitted photo)
While Erica P. John and Paula John have met Pope Francis many times, Paula said that each meeting is a joy because he greets everyone with kindness and warmth.
Erica John, Paula’s mother, has met Pope Francis so many times the Holy Father is very familiar with her.
“When we attended the audience with Pope Francis last month, we were sitting in the first row on the side of entrance he uses, and he recognized (mom) right away, smiling and walking toward her like he was seeing an old friend. I had never seen him do this with anyone before,” Paula John said. “(Mom) was born and raised in Rome, so she is able to speak with Pope Francis in Italian, and when they see each other, they speak together like brother and sister.”
In April, the mother and daughter traveled to Rome, where they met with Pope Francis as members of the Stewards of St. Peter.
The Stewards of St. Peter contribute to The Papal Foundation, whose mission is to serve the Holy Father and the Roman Catholic Church through faith, energy and financial resources. There were 26 other Steward families that attended the gathering this year.
According to Executive Director David Savage, Stewards believe deeply it is their responsibility to care for the poorest of the poor.
“Erica has been a member of the Stewards of St. Peter for several decades and Paula came on board this past year,” Savage said. “Before COVID stopped travel, there was an annual audience with the Pope for individuals who contribute to the foundation. We were happy to resume these audiences.”
This year, the Foundation approved $14 million in grants, scholarships and humanitarian aid throughout the world. The amount included more than $9 million in grants requested by the Vatican for 123 projects in 64 countries.
For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, the foundation reported distributing grants of just more than $9.8 million and scholarships of $794,000. Since its founding in 1988, The Papal Foundation and its Stewards of St. Peter have allocated more than $200 million in grants and scholarships around the world to more than 2,000 projects selected according to priorities set by the pope.
The group’s 2021 report highlighted the foundation’s help to build a center for faith formation in Burundi, the construction of an orphanage in the Philippines, the renovation of a retreat house in Chile and the expansion of a church-run health center in Rwanda.
The scholarships provided by the foundation enable close to 100 priests, religious sisters, religious brothers and laity to study at one of the pontifical universities in Rome.
According to Paula John, Erica, who was married to the late Harry John of the DeRance Foundation and the son of the Miller Brewing company founder, became involved with The Papal Foundation at the request of some of the bishops as the Vatican was having financial difficulty.
“Pope John Paul II especially wanted to help eastern European countries that were just emerging from under communist rule,” Paula John said. “(My mother) had just returned from a trip to eastern Europe at the invitation of FADICA (Foundations And Donors Interested In Catholic Activities), where she visited Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria with Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles; Archbishop Flores of San Antonio, Texas; and Bishop Reilly of Norwich, Connecticut, in order to extend a welcoming hand of the western churches to the eastern churches that had to hide underground for many years during communism and now were finding their way in the light.”
Paula John has accompanied her mother on several Papal Foundation trips to Rome, especially in recent years. They were deeply moved by Pope Francis’ commitment to the poor and marginalized and mirrored what they have tried to do through the Erica P. John Fund.
“So, when the stock market rallied last year, we decided to give another donation to The Papal Foundation to support Pope Francis’ mission to reach out and embrace those in great need, which he does with Christ’s love,” said Paula John, who serves as president of the Erica P. John Fund. “Pope Francis uses Jesus’ healing words in his sermons to teach us that God loves rather than condemns us, repeatedly reminding us, as Jesus taught, that no one is excluded from Christ’s love and peace. He continually emphasizes unity and inclusion among all of God’s children, regardless of religion, race, sex or background.”
Paula John said The Papal Foundation strives to reflect a welcoming spirit through their support of projects and communities around the world.
“Like Jesus, Pope Francis welcomes us all — the poor, the lonely, the afraid and the abandoned — to Christ’s table,” she said. “The foundation shines a light on tremendously good work being done in the midst of what is often the most difficult situations. They look for and find grace in forgotten places and act as Pope Francis’ representatives in acknowledging good works and funding programs and projects that improve lives, and remind recipients of their inherent goodness as ordained by God.”