The following is the introduction to the new book SIX POPES: A Son of the Church Remembers by Monsignor Hilary C. Franco, published by Humanix Publishing (May 25, 2021) and available to purcahse here.
When over 65 years ago, God called me to be a priest and I said “Yes!,” I set off on a journey that would involve both leading people to Heaven and saving them from Hell. Along the way I accumulated a treasure trove of memories.
Even though born during the reign of Pope Pius XI (r. 1922–1939), his successor, Pius XII (r. 1939–1958), was the first pope of whom I was cognizant. There were, however, six men who became popes whom, as seminarian and priest, I came to know personally. They are points of departure for the story of this son of the Church.
It’s the story of a kid who, by the grace of God, rose from the streets of Belmont—an Italian-American neighborhood in the Bronx that helped create doo-wop music—to serve Christ’s Church and spread His message of divine love. I saw the human race’s great possibilities alongside its tragically missed opportunities—the mansions of the super-rich not far from the hovels of the abysmally poor. I saw the latter’s cham- pions in the saints whom it was my privilege to know.
For many years, friends and family have encouraged me to “write a book.” Neither they (nor I, for that matter) saw me as a writer. Yes, I’ve served the Church as a priest under six popes, but I do not claim to have been an intimate of all of them.
But I do claim to be a witness. I have been a witness to the lives of good and great Roman Catholics, and in this book I’ll share choice recollections from my time with Archbishop Fulton Sheen and working in the Vatican for Saint John Paul II, among other Fishermen.
My life’s outline, trajectory, and contents are gifts from God, Who, in His infinite mercy and through His Blessed Mother’s intercession, bestowed this grace on me. I did nothing to merit it. An extra grace has been my continued ability—aided by diaries kept faithfully since my ordination—to recall dates and events accurately at my not-so-young age and set them before you.
This is inexplicable to me apart from the Almighty’s quiet but persistent work through me. As it turns out, my witness in this book may help complete my mission to the Church and Our Lord. I am reminded of Paul’s instruction to Philemon: “I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ” (Philemon 1:6). I hope the fruit of this effort convinces you that a life of service to God in Jesus Christ, fortified by His Blessed Mother’s intercession, can make a difference in this sin-ravaged world.
Even if it begins in the quartiere of Belmont.
Ad Jesum per Mariam.
MONSIGNOR HILARY C. FRANCO, STD, JCL, MA (SOC) is Advisor at the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations. Franco was ordained a priest in Rome at 22 and received a doctorate in biblical theology before the age of 24 from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. He attended Fordham University in New York, where he earned a master’s degree in sociology. Later, he earned another degree in canon law at the Lateran University. He is the author of Bishop Sheen: Mentor and Friend. Hilary C. Franco was born and raised in the Bronx. His latest book, SIX POPES: A Son of the Church Remembers, can be purchased here.
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