A Snapshot Of The Pope's Life

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It has been said that a picture is worth 1,000 words.

That's hard to argue when you look at poignant images of Pope John Paul II, snapped by veteran photojournalist Roger Sandler, who has covered the pontiff on three separate occasions, including the pope's first visit to the U.S. in 1979.

It is this visit that is particularly dear to Sandler. He tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm, he had the opportunity to share a moment with the pope.

"He smiled at me, and he came to me," Sandler says. He spoke in either Yiddish or Hebrew to me. I didn't understand it. Then he put his hand to my cheek and then to my head to bless me and then he stepped back."

The exchange happened because Sandler, knowing just a few words of Yiddish and Hebrew wished the pontiff a happy New Year. It was around that time in the Jewish calendar.

"I looked at him. He smiled at me. I just said, good yontov," Sandler recalls, "He lit up. He lit up."

Back then, the 33-year veteran photojournalist explains he was the American pool photographer, "which is a part of a small group of three or four journalists who are with the pope close-up and back stage. He was in Washington, D.C., on a trip. And he was waiting for his motorcade to be set up," Sandler explains.

Asked if he felt a sense of being in a holy presence, Sandler says, "I had more of a sense of being, surisingly so, in the presence of a very holy man who was also a common man. There wasn't this reserve of prior popes, prior generations of popes. This was very much a man, a human being, as well as the pope. These shoes of the fisherman will be very hard to fill."

In a lot of the pictures he captured, the late pope is smiling. "Smiling eyes," is what Sandler says the pope had, showing his exuberance for life.

Recalling the pope's America visits, Sandler says, "He loved this saying, and in his accent it was so poignant. He would say, "America, America god shed his grace on thee and crown thy good with brotherhood. I never heard it said with so much heart."

While the pope connected with many people around the world, Sandler says, he also took time to reflect on what was around him.

"No matter where he was," Sandler says, "He would take moments to reflect, to take in the atmosphere, the crowd, the environment in which he was. And this goes back to when he was a young man and had retreats up in the mountains - either by himself -or when he was a young boy with his father, and later with friends. He would go to the mountains and they would have retreats and there would be a moment to get away from daily life. And I think that he brought this to his various trips."

Asked what his reacion was when he heard about the pope's death, Sandler says, "My first reactions were to see him so frail in this past year. A man of such vigor, a man of such strength, a man who pushed on, sometimes 18, 20-hour days when he was traveling around the world. And I think that was an inspiration to the tens of thousands of people who showed up to see the pontiff, even from a great distance, that the fact is that someone of their parents' - maybe their grandparents' - age had the strength to not only hold large Masses, but to go to performances and to visit sites, tourist sites and the like.

A"nd I always saw in his face, I tried to capture the happiness that he seemed to have of being there."