Who better to tell jokes about the Pope than the Pope himself?

John Paul II, born Karol Joseph Wojtyla, lived through World War II as a laborer in a chemical factory in southern Poland, which was Nazi occupied territory for most of the war. He saw the savage treatment of Jews by the Nazis first hand while he secretly studied to become a priest. The horrors of war and the seeming inaction of the Catholic Church left a deep impact on the Pope, and he has struggled to make amends to the Jewish people for most of his reign.

As a gesture of goodwill, the Pope chose Brooklyn-born Jewish conductor Gilbert Levine to conduct Haydn's "Creation" at the celebrations for his 80th birthday. Levine, understanding the historical significance of his role in mending fences between two major religions, was understandably nervous. During the final preparations for the event, the Pope took a walk backstage and gestured Gilbert aside.

Looking concerned and serious, the Pope asked Levine: Is it good? Are they (the orchestra) ready?

Gilbert, already high-strung and nervous, answered quickly and profusely. He assured the Pope that everything was perfect, all the musicians were wonderful and that nothing had gone wrong during rehearsals. Suddenly self-conscious and worried about the Pope's hushed questions, Gilbert asked him why he was concerned? What had he heard?

The Pope pulled him close and said:
"Thank goodness everything is ready. I hear the Pope is coming tonight!" and then winked.

Gilbert later reported that all the nerves he had disappeared and he gave the performance of his career, after laughing backstage with the Pope.

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