Has the East-West struggle reached an unpalatable stalemate? Is it time to introduce a third party, an intermediary to break the deadlock?

In sweltering Rome, these questions gained surprising relevance this month—in fact and, curiously enough, in fiction.

The fact lay in what may have been, according to the American newspaper in Rome, “the biggest double feature here since Nero fiddled while the city burned”: the coronation of Pope Paul VI and the visit of President Kennedy.

The fiction lay in a new novel, The Shoes of the Fisherman, wherein a Ukrainian pope becomes the go-between for the United States president and the Soviet premier. The book was released just seven days after the death of Pope John XXIII and was an immediate U. S. best-seller. It was written, not by an alarmist bigot seeking to arouse anti-Catholic sentiment through fear of papal power, but by a veteran Vatican correspondent turned novelist. The author, Morris West, formerly of the London Daily Mail, previously wrote The Devil’s Advocate, which also was a sensation. West’s early years were spent as an apprentice of the Christian Brothers, an Australian teaching order.

Adding still more fuel for speculation was the audience with Paul VI, just four days before that of Kennedy, of the President’s 1960 election opponent, former Vice-President Richard M. Nixon. Nixon and his family were on a vacation trip. They spent about half an hour with the Pope.

West’s novel will never come true altogether. Some of its lines border on the ludicrous. But it may well prove historic as an accurate portrayal of the spirit of the times, that is, a yearning for more normal world conditions.

Moreover, the elevation of Giovanni Battista Montini to “the chair of St. Peter” probably ...

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