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Mr. Widmer, 46, is now a practicing Catholic and the director of entrepreneurship programs at The Catholic University of America. He lives in Hyattsville, Md., with his wife, Michelle, and 9-year-old son, Eli.

They left for Rome on Wednesday and planned to visit religious sites before attending the 7 a.m. Mass on Sunday at St. Peter’s Basilica.

Mr. Widmer said John Paul likely would “get a kick out of” his canonization because it extends his ministry.

“His writing, his life, his thoughts are still not understood fully,” Mr. Widmer said. “The theology of the body, how to understand physical presence — if he dies and then nobody talks about it anymore, it sort of reaches its limit. The fact he is now a saint means this is going to live on.”

The pope he once guarded “was the first person to make sense, to a secular world, to make sense to the 21st century world, to interpret the Christian message. We need somebody like this in every age.”