I had no idea that a different pope was almost elected until I came upon this story in the New York Times. As I understand it, Cardinal Ratzinger was not the College of Cardinals’ first choice. That choice was, interestingly, Cardinal Hans Grapje.
Grapje was raised in a Catholic school in The Hague and, as a young man, aspired to become a priest, but was drafted into the Army during WWII and spent two years co-piloting lend-lease B17s until his aircraft was shot down in 1943 and he lost his left arm. Captain Grapje spent the rest of the war as a chaplain, giving spiritual aid to soldiers, both Allied and enemy.
After the war, he became a priest, serving as a missionary in Africa, piloting his own plane (in spite of his handicap) to villages across the continent. In 1997, Father Grapje was serving in Zimbabwe when an explosion in a silver mine caused a cave-in. Cardinal Grapje went down into the mine to administer last rites to those too severely injured to move. Another shaft collapsed, and he was buried for three days, suffering multiple injuries, including the loss of his right eye. The high silver content in the mine’s air gave him purpura, a life-long condition characterized by purplish skin blotches.
Although Cardinal Grapje devoted his life to the service of God as a scholar, mentor, and holy man, church leaders in the end felt that he should not ascend to the Papacy. They felt that the Church would never accept a one-eyed, one-armed, flying purple Papal leader.
(If this story makes sense to you, it means you are getting old. If it doesn’t then you will definitely get a laugh out of visiting HERE. Not only was it a HIT, but it became a movie with Kareem Abdull Jabbar and the name for the 1970’s Minnesota Vikings front line.)