BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET)— The pope is one of the most recognizable people in the world. Many of us know of him. Then, there are those who actually get to meet him. But there’s a smaller number of people who get to stand shoulder to shoulder with the man they call His Holiness.

“You know, I’m a kid from Corvallis, Oregon.” Monsignor John Cihak is also a former papal master of ceremonies. Monsignor Cihak, a priest of the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon has had the privilege of serving under Popes Benedict and Francis. Ironically though, at one point in his life, he never thought he’d become a priest.

“I was an undergrad at Notre Dame in pre-med and I ended up switching out and started studying philosophy and went on from there,” Monsignor Cihak said. Cihak was officially nominated as a papal master of ceremonies in 2010. He said he can remember how nervous he was in the beginning but grew in confidence over time. He also remembers just how engaged Pope Benedict was with him when they spoke, especially before Cihak headed back to Oregon in 2018.

“Archbishop Gänswein, his secretary, who I worked with a lot in the papal liturgies said: ‘Before you leave, would you like to have a one-on-one with Pope Benedict?’ I said: ‘Would I? Of course.’
And so, we met in the Vatican Gardens. We sat on a bench in the Vatican Gardens, just Pope Benedict and myself. We spoke for 20 minutes.” “And then the meeting concluded and he went back to his monastery and I came back here. It was so human.”

Though he didn’t get as close to Pope Benedict, Justin Croonenberghs, a parishioner at Bismarck’s Church of Corpus Christi, said he’s come back to the church over the last couple of years, due in part to Pope Benedict’s humanity, his love of the church, and theological knowledge.

“He was very much a man of Christ and from what I understand, his last words were ‘I love you, Jesus,” Croonenberghs said. “What better way for a pope to go?

Deacon Bob Wingenbach, also of the Church of Corpus Christi, said his experience seeing the pope in person is one he’ll never forget. He’ll also remember the late pontiff’s influence and what it will mean for the church’s future.

“I think his legacy will be one of being a steady hand on the tiller of the ship of the Catholic Church.” It is a ship, which Pope Benedict said: “the Lord does not let sink. It is he who guides it.”

Monsignor Cihak said during his conversation with Pope Benedict, they spoke about the Archdiocese of Portland, where Cihak lives and works, as well as his doctoral thesis, about which the pope asked him a few questions: typical of a former professor of theology.