A secret papal visit: in 1985, the journalist Arnold Stampfli was one of the few who knew about the papal visit to the Principality of Liechtenstein. He put the info for a journalist friend – later thanked the head of government.
Tell me about your secret mission in the spring of 1985!
Arnold B. Stampfli*: At that time, journalists from Eastern Switzerland were invited to the prince in Liechtenstein. We were about 30 journalists. All stood in a cluster around the monarch. In a corner of the hall stood a man with a beard, all alone. “He’s the interesting man,” I thought to myself. It turned out that he was the prince’s chancellor.
Did you speak to him?
Stampli: Of course. We chatted a bit. “You had the Pope’s visit to Switzerland last year. But the Pope did not come to St. Gallen,” said the Chancellor. “Perhaps you will see him on another occasion,” he added. I smelled a rat and said the Pope had no plans to travel to the Principality of Liechtenstein any time soon.
© Einsiedeln Monastery Archive
Pope John Paul II. 1984 in Einsiedeln
What did he say?
Stampfli: “Yes, yes, it won’t be that long,” was the Chancellor’s reply. When I got home, I told Bishop Mäder, for whom I was the information officer, about the news. Of course, expecting the bishop of the neighboring diocese to die wisely. But he had no idea. His answer was: he would occasionally ask Johannes Vonderach, the priest bishop of Chur.
How does the story continue?
Stampfli: In May my brother and I were at a world meeting of journalists in Rome. My brother, who at the time was the information officer for the diocese of Chur, came back to the hotel room where I had just taken a siesta and said: «At the bar downstairs there is a man who, over a beer, is telling where the Pope is going in the near future. »
Arnold B. Stampfli in the newsroom of the Catholic Media Center in Zurich
Did you buy him a beer?
Stampfli: I went straight downstairs and recognized the colleague I had met before on a Catholic day in Germany. Then I grabbed my chance and asked about the papal trips. What exactly I want to know, the man asked. “Vaduz!” I said. He opened his agenda and said: “On September 8th of this year.”
How did Bishop Mäder react to the news?
Stampfli: In the meantime, Bishop Mäder had spoken to Bishop Vonderach about the Pope’s visit. Vonderach assured him that nothing was being done, Bishop Mäder told me. His bishop colleague will probably not have lied to him.
Pope John Paul II (r.) is received by Bishop Johannes Vonderach from Chur after landing in Flüeli-Ranft, June 14, 1984
But you knew better. A tricky situation…
Stampfli: I said to Bishop Mäder, Bishop Vonderach had not lied to him, there was really nothing to be done, everything had already been decided. The Pope will come to Vaduz on September 8th. Bishop Mäder didn’t want to believe it.
And then the preparations started in Liechtenstein?
Stampfli: Nothing happened for a long time. Everything remained secret in the Principality of Liechtenstein.
But such a papal visit is a big event: many people, many security questions that have to be clarified and so on…
Stampfli: Yes, of course. The preparations should have started long ago. Then I got an idea. I got in touch with my fellow journalist at the Rheintalische Volkszeitung. I offered him the Primeur. He could hardly believe the news of the Pope’s visit and wanted to sleep on it for two more nights. Then the news was on the front page: Pope’s visit on September 8, 1985. “As we learned from an otherwise reliable source,” said the message.
Stamps from the Pope’s visit to Liechtenstein in 1985
Your colleague probably didn’t quite trust you?
Stampfli: They’re all frightened. But now the preparations could finally start. They then brought me in to set up the press center. I managed the press center during the Pope’s visit to Einsiedeln and knew how it works. When they showed me a gym with 20 chairs for journalists, I upgraded the center and increased the number of seats tenfold. In the end, 300 journalists from all over the world were accredited.
How did it come about that someone broke the news about the Pope’s visit to the press?
Stampfli: On the eve of the Pope’s visit, I was invited to dinner with the head of government. On this occasion, the host said that he himself was very worried. Because for a long time he was one of the few who knew about the Pope’s visit. All the time he was wondering how they should prepare for a papal visit in three weeks. “Thank God,” said the district president, “a Swiss newspaper made this news public”. So none of the confidants had to contradict the confidentiality.
What were you thinking?
Stampfli: I was a bit proud. I did something good there.
* Arnold B. Stampfli (92) helped shape Catholic journalism in Switzerland. He wrote as a journalist and later as a spokesman for various bishops and organized the communication of the papal visit in Einsiedeln in 1984 and in Vaduz in 1985.
© Catholic Media Center, May 19, 2022
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