It was May 4, 1984 and Pope John Paul II was visiting Sarok Island off Korea, a one-time leper colony where several hundred people with the disfiguring disease were receiving care.

Arturo Mari was there, as he was on all the pontiff’s trips, a silent witness to almost every papal audience, Mass, vacation and dinner party, public or private.

As the pope’s personal photographer, Mari had nearly unrestricted access to John Paul’s 27-year papacy, and his verdict as the pontiff’s beatification approaches is unwavering: he was a living saint.

The protocol that day in 1984 called for John Paul to enter the Sarok pavilion where the patients were gathered, give a brief speech on the meaning of suffering, then leave. But after surveying the scene, John Paul brushed aside a cardinal who tried to speed him along, and set to work.

“He touched them with his hands, caressed them, kissed each one,” Mari said. “Eight hundred lepers, one by one. One by one!”

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