jean paul II iraqi shootoutkirk douglasgina lollobrigidadouble eagle II

Pope Jean Paul II at Notre Dame of Paris

As an American in Paris, I used to love to beat the French photographers at their own game. There is no greater trophy on my ego shelf than the time I covered the first official visit of Pope Jean Paul II.



Pope Jean Paul II visits with his priests at the Notre Dame Cathedrale in Paris France during one of his early travels in 1978. No press was allowed in. This rare glimpse of his holiness captures the popularity and connection he had with his followers. (photo © Randy Taylor)

You must bear in mind that this was a huge story at the time. After centuries of being walled up in the Vatican, this was the first Pope to get out and really see the people. And, he was coming to Paris, the world's center of photojournalism and home to the most significant photo agencies, like Sygma and Gamma.

Though the itinerary was not yet made public, I made the logical assumption that his Holiness would, at some point, visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame. So, I went and presented myself to the church and explained that they would need an official photographer to document the event for them. And, who better to choose than one who could simultaneously share the images of this historic and significant moment with the entire world. And, of course, I'm free.

The Pope spoke to the masses from a large podium which was constructed in the square out front of the Cathedral. The scaffolding somehow reminded me of a scene in "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame". Afterwards, he went inside where he was to privately address the priests of France and give Holy Communion. I found my contact and asked to enter.

As I was escorted in, I could hear the complaints of my colleagues. "Mais, non." ""Que est-ce qu'il fait, lui." I was entering the inner sanctum as a hundred or more photographers, like barbarians at the gate, clamored to find a way to sneak in. But, there I was, sitting practically at the feet of the Pope amidst a sea of priests and there was not another non-Vatican photographer in site. The giant stained glass windows cast pools of colored light on the massive stone walls which towered over me. And, his voice echoed softly throughout the cavernous cathedral. I was, all at once, humbled by the experience and floating in heaven from the excitement of the coup that I'd just pulled off.

Socially, my four years in Paris were not very warm. I had very few friends. And, the French photographers didn't like me much at all. Gee, I wonder why. Maybe being young, arrogant and successful had something to do with it.

randy taylor1123 broadway suite 1006new york ny10010 usa917 834 9793