Cranberry Township man has papal close encounter
Cranberry Eagle
Written by:
March 13, 2013
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Jack Cohen

A Cranberry Township man got about as close as possible to Pope Benedict XVI as he delivered his final speech as pontiff late last month.

Jack Cohen, president of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, stood 11 rows back from Benedict on Feb. 27 and listened to him deliver his words.

Benedict left the papacy the next day, marking the first time in more than 600 years a pope resigned the office.

“It was pretty impressive, turning around and seeing 200,000 people behind you,” Cohen said about his time spent in the massive crowd. “It was insane, a kind of controlled chaos. It was really intense.”

Cohen and his wife, both of Cranberry Township, planned the trip long before the news broke of Benedict’s resignation earlier this year.

The trip included other stops across Italy to places like Florence, Naples and Rome.

Cohen spoke about the unusual atmosphere surrounding the speech, during which hundreds of thousands of people stood silently and listened intently.

That atmosphere soon turned into one resembling a rock concert, Cohen said, as the crowd erupted with cheers and applause after the speech.

“It’s a story I’m glad to be a part of and will always cherish and remember as long as I live,” he said.

Cohen’s story took an interesting turn for another local resident, Cranberry Township police Officer Dan Hahn.

Hahn, the officer who nearly died after jumping off a highway overpass while chasing a suspect in 2011, gave a motivational speech to the Cranberry Township Rotary Club the morning before Cohen left for Italy.

In that speech, Hahn talked about the power of prayer and how his faith helped get him through rehabilitation and relearning how to walk.

Hahn learned about Cohen’s trip and asked him to take along a copy of his motivational speech in the hopes that the pope might bless it. According to Cohen, he did.

Now that he’s back home, Cohen said he isn’t intently following the selection process for the next pope.

But that doesn’t mean he’s not keeping an eye on the situation. After all, maybe he’ll get a chance to meet the future pope later.

“I would go back in a heartbeat,” he said.