John Paul's Soldiers

<B>Scott Pelley</B> Reports On The Catholic Church's Future In America

On Monday, the body of John Paul II will be moved to St. Peter's Basilica under the great dome of Michelangelo, so the public can pay its last respects. His funeral is expected Friday, and Rome is bracing for hundreds of thousands of pilgrims.

One of the last to see the pope alive was an American cardinal, close to John Paul's heart. He's Edmund Cardinal Szoka, the man the pope entrusted to run the Vatican.

"I have this executive authority, so I have the authority to run, to manage this country," Szoka tells .

Most Americans may not realize it, but the president of the country known as the Vatican is from Grand Rapids, Mich. Szoka runs it all from construction to security. He shared the pope's friendship, his Polish heritage, and was by his side on Friday.

"They had him propped up on pillows. There were three doctors on one side of the bed helping him, so I went to the other side and I knelt down, and kissed his hand," says Szoka. "I want to say that he was perfectly lucid, perfectly conscious, and I know he recognized me immediately, because he couldn't speak, but looking at me with his eyes, and then nodding, you know, trying to say, you know, 'Nice to see you.'"

"He was having very serious difficulty breathing. It was very labored and it was hard. He had to almost, they were helping him with various ways of getting air into his lungs," adds Szoka. "It was a very sad sight to see him have to struggle almost for every breath. I'm a priest and I'm used to giving blessings to people, so when I got up, without even thinking about, 'This is the pope,' I gave him my blessing and he blessed himself when I did that."

As the Vatican prepares for the funeral, Szoka showed 60 Minutes the Vatican City you don't often see, including a new innovation for the papal election. For the first time in hundreds of years, the College of Cardinals will have a proper place to stay while choosing the next pope.

"They used to have to put up cots and they would have four or five cardinals in a room such as we were in for the interview and they had some bathrooms but not enough," says Szoka. "It was a real penance to go through that thing. Of course, it had one advantage. It was so uncomfortable, it might have speeded up the election."

Over the last months of the pope's life, 60 Minutes has been looking into another story at the Vatican that suggests John Paul II will retain, long after his death, a powerful influence over the American church, in part because of young Americans studying at the North American Pontifical College.

It's the pope's own school for Americans -- the West Point of seminaries. The students there call themselves "John Paul's Soldiers." They're intellectual, passionate about evangelism and much more conservative than the generation of American priests before them.
In one of his last audiences in St. Peter's Square, John Paul emerged to greet the future of the American church. It was October when 60 Minutes watched American seminarians take their places in the front row.

The pope was meeting his new graduates, the ones he called "the young people." It wasn't what the pope said about the new deacons from the North American Pontifical College, but his struggle to say it to them in person, that spoke volumes about how much he cared for this seminary -- and the men who will be his living legacy.

Deacon David Carter, 25, is from Knoxville, Tenn. Like almost all the students in the seminary, John Paul is the only pope he's ever known. He says he's comfortable with John Paul's view of the clergy and the clergy's role.

"There are lots of people back in the United States who say priests should marry. They would understand families better. They would understand single parents better," says Pelley. "Women should be allowed to participate in the priesthood. Many people believe that in the United States."

What does Carter say about that? "I don't think it's a matter of John Paul II, you know, just flipping a switch one day and saying, 'Oh, well, now we're gonna change and have these rules and that rule,'" says Carter, who will be ordained a priest back home this summer. "I think it's a matter of the integrity of the gospel message from Christ. It might sound quite blunt, but I don't think you can be Catholic and not follow these teachings of the church."
Ronnie Floyd, 23, is brand new to Rome. He's from Fall River, Mass., and part of John Paul's last freshman class. What does it mean to be "John Paul's soldiers"?

"It means that we're a new crop, a different generation that are really very zealous for spreading the faith, in a way that it hasn't been spread for maybe 100 years," says Floyd.

The students are handpicked by the pope's American bishops, and sent to the top of Gianiculum Hill, serenely within the borders of Vatican City. They live and breathe Catholic theology here. About 150 students study 2,000 years of history with the help of computer programs no other university would need.

"John Paul's soldiers" study his writings and enlist in his conservative campaigns -- an all male clergy, celibacy, marriage only between a man and a woman, rejection of artificial birth control, genetic research, repudiation of war in most cases and abortion in all cases. The new generation meets old time religion with total devotion.

"He's the only pope that they've known," says Paul Baumann, editor of Commonweal, one of America's most important Catholic magazines. He says this generation of young men embrace all of John Paul's philosophy, while older American priests do not.
  • Rebecca Leung

60 Minutes App

New Look. New Season. The 60 Minutes app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch!

More from 60 Minutes