Arturo Mari, who spent 51 years photographing the diverse episodes of the lives of the popes, has begun sharing his first memories of his long career after his recent retirement.
In an extensive interview, Mari, who is married to an Ecuadorian, has a special affection for Latin America and said his most cherished photo is that of Pope John Paul II hugging an Indian child from Oaxaca, taken during his first visit to Mexico. Alternatively, the one picture he never wanted to release was the picture of the attempt on the Pope’s life on May 13, 1981.
Arturo Mari began taking pictures for the popes when he was 16 years old. His career spanned the pontificates of Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II and, until Mari’s recent retirement, Benedict XVI.
Asked about the most intense years of his life, Mari responded unhesitatingly that they were the ones spent working alongside John Paul II.
Mari recalled the beginning of his career, when he accompanied Pius XII to Vatican Radio on the outskirts of the Vatican City State. The short journey was almost an international trip for a Pontiff as discreet as Pius XII.
Mari also attended the opening of Vatican II and the first surprising trips outside the Vatican of now Blessed John XXIII to hospitals, prisons and even to the new Roman airport. But the Italian photographer’s international adventures began with John Paul II.
Mari said there was one thing he has never done: keep a secret picture for himself, especially after the ones he took during the attempt on John Paul’s life in St. Peter’s Square. “I don’t even know how I took them,” he recalled. “The same happened at the Gemelli Hospital, when I had to take a picture of him in bed. He said to me, ‘I’m still alive.’ I just cried and I couldn’t see anything.”
Mari has his favorite pictures. The one he considers the most important was taken during John Paul II’s last Via Crucis, when the elderly Pope asked for a crucifix. He rested his forehead on the cross. “That is the most emblematic photo of his Pontificate,” Mari said.
He has been called as a witness in the beatification process of John Paul II and without entering into details, he said he was a witness to miracles, cures, exorcisms and conversions.
Now 68, Mari said he is looking forward to resting and spending time with his family. “My dream is to see John Paul II beatified. I respect the Church’s timetable, but I am impatient,” he confessed.