When I arrived at the Vatican I was received as a distinguished visitor. The papal guards were turned out, and I was finally ushered into the room of Cardinal Merry del Val. He was a young man then and an accomplished diplomat, and most intimately informed on all questions of current interest. Literature, music, drama, political conditions in Europe were among his accomplishments. He said the usual formula when a stranger is presented to the pope is for the guest to kneel and kiss his ring. The pope has decided that all this will be omitted in your case. He will receive you exactly as an eminent foreigner calling by appointment upon the President of the United States.
When I was ushered into the presence of the pope he left his throne, came forward, grasped me cordially by the hand, and welcomed me in a very charming way. He was not a well man, and his bloodless countenance was as white and pallid as his robes. This was all relieved, however, by the brilliancy of his wonderful eyes.
After a few preliminary remarks he plunged into the questions in which he was deeply interested. He feared the spread of communism and vividly described its efforts to destroy the church, ruin religion, extirpate faith, and predicted that if successful it would destroy civilization.
I told him that I was deeply interested in the encyclical he had recently issued to reconcile or make more harmonious the relations between capital and labor. He commenced speaking upon that subject, and in a few minutes I saw that I was to be privileged to hear an address from one who as priest and bishop had been one of the most eloquent orators of the age. In his excitement he leaned forward, grasping the arms of the throne, the color returned to his cheeks, his eyes flashed, his voice was vibrant, and I was the audience, the entranced audience of the best speech I ever heard upon the question of labor and capital.
I was fearful on account of his health, that the exertion might be too great, and so arose to leave. He again said to me, and taking my hand: "I know all about you and am very grateful to you that in your official capacity as president of the New York Central Railroad you are treating so fairly the Catholics. I know that among your employees twenty-eight thousand are of the Catholic faith, and not one of them has ever known any discrimination because of their belief, but all of them have equal opportunities with the others for the rewards of their profession and protection in their employment."
The next day he sent a special messenger for a renewal of the conversation, but unhappily I had left Rome the night before.
During my stay in Rome of four days I had visited most of its antiquities, its famous churches, and spent several hours in the Vatican gallery. Our American minister, one of the most accomplished of our diplomats, Mr. William Potter, had also given me a dinner, where I was privileged to meet many celebrities of the time.
Among English statesmen I found in Lord Salisbury an impressive figure. In a long conversation I had with him at the Foreign Office he talked with great freedom on the relations between the United States and Great Britain. He was exceedingly anxious that friendly conditions should continue and became most cordial.