Remembering Pope John Paul II in the Stateline

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Rockford's Allan Carlson will forever savor the handshake, the greeting and the conversation he had with the late Pope John Paul II.

"It was a privilege to meet him a man like him, a privilege just to be in his presence. He changed the world, but we are really going to miss him because the problems that exist in the world, we need his moral character," Carlson said.

Carlson met the Pope twice in 1996 and 1999 as a consultant on the Pontifical Council on Family. He says despite the Pope's declining health, he was struck by John Paul II's humility and grace.

Carlson praises the late Pope's acceptance of all global religious faiths and his persuasion in helping end the Cold War in eastern Europe.

"He provided the moral courage, the moral dignity, the example that mobilized people in Poland and other satellite nations to rise up and protest the Soviet empire," Carlson said.

Paul Langsholt-Gould also had the chance of a lifetime in 1998, touring to the Vatican as a guest of the Chicago Cardinal. Gould met John Paul II in a private audience, receiving a special rosary from the Pope himself.

"Words can't describe what it meant to meet the Pope. I somehow had a feeling when I did visit him that I would be back for his funeral," Langsholt-Gould said.

And years removed from their special papal one on one, both men say Pope John Paul II's legacy will be long lasting, in both the religious and political world.

"I think he'll be remembered fondly by everybody Catholic and non-Catholic, I think, because he was a strong force for the 20th and 21st century," Langsholt-Gould said.

"I greatly admired him, particularly his commitment to family and to the preservation of family. Obviously when I heard I had a chance to be able to meet him, great excitement," Carlson said.

It’s an excitement that is now grief and reflection for millions in the world touched by the Pope's presence, and the select few in the stateline who felt that presence firsthand.