- Associated Press - Sunday, October 11, 2015

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - American Airlines pilot Capt. Gary Beam carried a huge secret for more than a month: that he had been selected to fly Pope Francis back to Rome.

“I’ve been wanting to burst at the seams for the last month. It’s one of those secrets that you just wanted to blurt to everybody,” said Beam, who could tell no one outside of his immediate family for security reasons.

“I was elated. Even today, it doesn’t feel like it was real. It seems like a dream sequence.”

Beam, who has been with American Airlines for 23 years and has lived in Tulsa for 11 years, got a call from his supervisor in late August asking him to if he would take the assignment.

“I didn’t have to think about it,” he told the Tulsa World (https://bit.ly/1GyPEKA ).



He believes he may have been selected because his superiors knew that just last year he was ordained a deacon in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tulsa after completing a rigorous seven-year process. He serves as a deacon at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church in Broken Arrow.

American Airlines spokeswoman Andrea Huguely said Beam and the rest of the flight crew went through a stringent background check and signed confidentiality agreements.

Several other Tulsans, all with the American Airlines maintenance facility, were on the flight, including Doug Mages, J.R. Scott, Kevin Ferrin and Cliff Maxwell.

The charter flight was under the control of the U.S. Secret Service, Huguely said.

The airplane was a twin-aisle jumbo jet that seats 220. Huguely said the airliner was essentially unmodified, but a removable decal of the papal shield was installed outside the door.

Beam left Tulsa on Sept. 26 and flew to Philadelphia. The eight-hour charter flight to Rome left Philadelphia at 8 p.m. Sept. 27 with four pilots; the captain, who took off and landed the plane; Beam, the relief captain, who flew the plane for several hours in mid-flight; and two co-pilots.

Early in the flight, and after an in-air press conference, it was announced that the pope would meet with the flight crew.

Beam left the cockpit carrying a zip-close bag of rosaries and a bottle of holy water he wanted the pope to bless.

He encountered the pope coming down the aisle.

“I’m standing there with these rosaries, just trying to get out of his way, and he sees them, and immediately stops, looks at me, smiles, and says, ‘Would you like me to bless them?’

“I nodded, and he placed his hands on those objects and offered a papal blessing. Then he proceeded to his seat.”

Beam said he then took his place in a line to greet the pope.

“When it came to my time, the pope reached over and grabbed my hand. I said, ‘Holy father, I just want you to know that myself and my family, my parish, and my diocese, we pray for you.’

“And he nodded his head and said, ‘Please continue to pray for me.’”

Beam said that most people, after an exhausting week of speeches and events, would want to rest on the plane ride home, but the pope took the time to meet individually with each crew member.

“That shows you what a shepherd he is. Can you imagine how exhausted he must have been?

“He’s a most gracious man,” Beam said. “I can’t emphasize that enough. He’s the people’s pope … very humble, a servant of all.”

When the plane landed in Rome, Beam said, as he emerged from the cockpit, Pope Francis was in the hallway between the cockpit and the passenger compartment to thank him for a safe trip.

Beam said about the half of the crew members stayed with the plane to fly back to the United States, but he took a couple of days to meet with people and go on several tours at the Vatican. While he was there, he met with Monsignor Peter Wells, the “assessore of general affairs” in the office of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, the highest-ranking American in the Vatican, who is from the Diocese of Tulsa.

Although Beam travels globally with American Airlines, most often to Hong Kong in recent years, this was his first trip to Rome.

“It was very special,” he said.

___

Information from: Tulsa World, https://www.tulsaworld.com

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide