By Natalie Romano
You send someone a gift; you get a thank you letter. Not surprising.
You send a gift to the Pope, who knows what will happen?
Dr. William Abersold of Highland can tell you. Last November, the author and Ph.D sent his book “Words about God” to Pope Francis. Then waited and waited. The agony ended in April when the mail arrived with an envelope marked the Vatican. Abersold couldn’t believe his eyes.
“I was overwhelmed…overwhelmed,” he explains.
His wife, Stella, thought a reply would never come.
“I thought he was crazy. I didn’t think the Pope would even see it.”
But the Vatican letter says otherwise. Monsignor Paolo Borgia, Assessor for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State wrote “His Holiness Pope Francis was pleased to receive the gift which was kindly sent to him. He appreciates the devoted sentiments which prompted this thoughtful presentation.”
Borgia went on to write “The Holy Father gives the assurance of a remembrance in his prayers and he sends his blessings.”
Abersold started to share his good news.
“Every Catholic I know, and I know a lot of them, I’ve told them about it.”
Abersold, himself, is not Catholic. He’s a retired Protestant minister. He served at Highland Congregational Church for 22 years and prior to that, ministered at both Nazarene and Methodist churches. While he may not be a Catholic, he is a fan of the Pope.
“I’ve read his words on mercy and I love that man for his viewpoints,” Abersold said. “Every article (about the Pope) I can find, I cut it out and remember it.”
And now wherever Abersold goes, so goes his prized possession from the papacy.
“I was afraid I’d lose it so I had Stella frame it. I’ve got a couple copies that I carry in my wallet.”
Copies he’s willing to show fellow worshippers at St. Adelaide Catholic Church in Highland. That’s right. Every Sunday before attending a Methodist service, the Abersolds start with early morning Mass.
“We enjoy the ambiance of the church. We enjoy the liturgy of the church. They have really beautiful music,” he points out.
You might even say it’s music that lead Abersold to ministry. As a college trumpet player, he performed at an event featuring the now Venerable Fulton J. Sheen. It was a life changing experience.
“I was enthralled, inspired! He was the one who inspired me to become a minister,” Abersold enthuses.
This is perhaps surprising for a boy who was once told he wasn’t welcome in church.
“They asked us not to come back because our clothes weren’t good enough. And when I became a Methodist, I told them ‘I’m getting even with you ladies, I’m becoming your minister!” he recalls with a wicked grin.
Through his many years of ministry, Abersold was willing to work with faith leaders of any stripe. One of them, whom he remembers fondly, is Bishop Phillip Straling, founding bishop of the Diocese of San Bernardino.
“We were on a special committee together that dealt with community problems,” he says. “We became good friends.”
After decades of service, Abersold retired from ministry. He says he was ready to embark on a second career and a third marriage.
“I made a bucket list. One of them was to marry Stella. The other one was to write for a newspaper.”
So he did, working for local publications like the Highland Community News and Inland Empire Weekly. He’s also written 18 books including the one he sent and dedicated to the Pope. “Words About God” reflects on faith, love and humor. Abersold believes Jesus was a funny guy.
“Jesus had a lot of humor. The hyberbole, the exaggeration, the tools he used to teach, those are elements of humor.”
Abersold even performs “Sit-Down Comedy,” since now at age 89, he uses a walker.
His life includes a blended family of children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren. Their pictures cover the countertops in his home and occupy his prayers along with the many people that touch his life.
“Stella and I pray together every morning. We pray that God will help us take care of each other. We pray for priests and ministers. I counted up all the people I pray for everyday, I have 350.”
Many of them are returning the love as Abersold enjoys his letter from the Vatican.
“The thing that is amazing is the number of people who are thrilled for me.”
But none of them may have ever known about the letter due to a near mishap at the mailbox.
“I was happy that I didn’t think it was junk mail and throw it away, because I do that a lot,” explains a relieved Stella.
Fortunately she saw the return address and now displays the letter in their living room.
“I’m very proud, very proud of him, always have been.”
Natalie Romano is a freelance writer and a parishioner of The Holy Name of Jesus in Redlands.