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Former Swiss Guard Speaks on Leadership Lessons from the Pope     

Widmer recently authored The Pope and the CEO: John Paul II's Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard

Posted:  2011-11-23  

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STEUBENVILLE, OH—On the night of Christmas Eve, in 1986, Andreas Widmer slumped his 6-foot, 9-inch frame in a chair in front of the papal apartment door at the Vatican and cried. Brand new to the Swiss Guard, the young Widmer was spending his first Christmas away from home—and he was working. Suddenly, his radio crackled. It was his commanding officer, telling him to unlock the door to the pope's apartment so he could come out and celebrate midnight Mass. Andreas unlocked the door, then returned to his post, trying to compose himself.

A few moments later, the door opened, and warm, yellow light flooded the room. There, framed in the doorway, was Pope John Paul II. Immediately noticing Widmer, he cocked his head, and said, "I've never seen you before! What's your name?" And once more, Widmer began to cry. John Paul took him by the hand and pulled him in close, looking at him with his light gray eyes, and said, "Of course! This is your first Christmas away from home. You know, Andreas, I really appreciate the sacrifice you're making here for the Church. I'm going to pray for you as I celebrate midnight Mass tonight."

Widmer, author and co-founder of the Seven Fund, spoke to students at Franciscan University of Steubenville November 10 as part of the University's Distinguished Speakers Series. Now a seasoned business executive with years of experience in high-tech, international business strategy and economic development, Widmer said that first moment he shared with the pope taught him a lesson he'd never forget.

"I'd walked by 15 of my best buddies in the guards that night, and nobody said a word," he recalled. "It was only later that I realized that the one guy that noticed my pain was the man who leads over a billion Catholics, who has all these things on his mind. … This man acknowledged, 'This is another human being!'"

Widmer told the Franciscan students that this encounter with the pope taught him a leadership lesson he still practices today.

"What we're doing here is learning to be leaders," he said. "And one day, when I see you again in 20 years, and you're leaders, I want to ask you if you know the name of the person who's the parking attendant, or who picks up the phone, or who cleans up your offices after you leave."

In his speech, "The Pope and the CEO: John Paul II's Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard," Widmer told of what he learned from the pope as a Pontifical Swiss Guard from 1986 to 1988 and the lessons he has carried through his professional career.

Widmer said that one of man's most important callings is to be a co-creator with God, by developing his own gifts, talents, and ideas. When we work, Widmer said, we uncover the unfulfilled potential God has hidden for us to find, and we participate in his work of creation.

"God tells us, 'Go into the garden and make it better,'" he said. "You know that when you do this, God is there, God is with you—you're participating in creation."

Our job, Widmer said, is to overturn the problems in today's industry by focusing on the human mind, not money, as the ultimate resource, and by utilizing our minds to create something beautiful for the world. But, he warned, this does not mean that Christians in the business world should not be financially successful.

"Man is not made for profit—profit is made for man," Widmer explained. "We are gardeners with God. … If you're a good gardener, there's going to be figs on your tree. And the owner of the garden wants some of those figs!"

In business, profit is as essential as oxygen, Widmer said. When we are successful, we must turn around and share our profits back with God. But God also wants the ultimate profit: a new generation of morally-sound leaders to infiltrate today's market, which often focuses on the rule of law over the rule of morality.

"Morality has to be much higher than the law, otherwise we can't do business with each other."

Widmer went on to detail three things the late Pope John Paul II said must be present to have a successful business: a participatory government, a competitive free market, and a public moral culture. Without these three things, he said, business cannot be conducted in a truly successful and Christ-like manner.

"We are called to excellence," Widmer said. "Much of what we are doing today is not a free market. … The glue that holds businesses together is that we can trust each other, never mind the law."

God gave each of us a box of crayons, Widmer said, and he expects us to paint something beautiful. When these three elements are in place, and we pair them with our gifts and graces from God, we have the perfect canvas to create a stunning picture for the Lord.

"Take what you have—take all of these gifts, these ideas—take a risk," Widmer exclaimed. "Don't do a black-and-white painting—use color! … John Paul would always say, 'Do not settle for mediocrity.' Don't make a good old painting: shoot for the moon, the stars, with your career, with your vocation, with your life. But then, in that pivotal moment, remember to give this ultimately back to God."

Widmer gave the crowd a final admonition, quoting the last words the Blessed John Paul II spoke to him when he left the Swiss Guard to return to regular life.

"He said, 'You have found Christ here. Now, go out into the world and share Christ with others,'" Widmer said. "I tell you, that you have found Christ here at this university. Now go out, and share that Christ with everybody else."

Kayla Keyes, a freshman studying theology at Franciscan University, said his message, "was so simple, but it was really a simple truth. I loved when he talked about the creation, and how we're called to create with God, and that everything's in union with him. … It was really a focus on the virtue of leadership."

Widmer's talk was sponsored by Franciscan University's Advancement Office and the new Center for Leadership as part of the Distinguished Speakers Series, which features leaders who are recognized for exemplary service to the Church and society.

Widmer’s book, The Pope and the CEO: John Paul II’s Leadership Lessons to a Young Swiss Guard, was published by Emmaus Road Publishing in September 2011.

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