For my non-Catholic blog-reader friends, writing a love story about a Pope may seem a bit odd. It may bring up some preconceived notions about Catholics worshiping idols or putting the Pope's messages before Christ's. But what I have learned as I have become familiar with the popes of my adult life is that these men who were appointed and who accepted the role to be the leader of the Universal Church must be distinctly humble human beings. They must fully rely on God and exemplify the traits of Jesus to be chosen and to succeed at such a daunting task. These men are holy, humble, prayerful, brilliant, loving, and kind. We look to them as heroes and leaders and love them like fathers!
Prayer on New Year's Eve 2001
Mass on New Year's Day 2002
Sunday Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square
He's up in that window!
and on the jumbo-tron below the St. Peter statue
During most of my life, our Holy Father John Paul II was the only pope I knew of. I didn't even know much about him, or about the role of a pope, until I learned about my Catholic faith in college. But the more and more I fell in love with Jesus and the Church, the more I fell in love with this amazing man who faithfully served the Church as Pope for over 26 years. His writings, his messages, his moving life story, his travels, his suffering and illness, and so many other things made him such an influential man that it is no wonder he's being declared a saint this month, a mere nine years after his death.
Cute newlywed pilgrims in Rome!
While in college we heard about newlyweds visiting Rome for their honeymoon and a special opportunity to receive a "Sposi Novelli" newlywed blessing from the pope at a Wednesday Audience. This became our dream as we prepared for marriage, but it was not possible right after our July wedding as we were both starting new jobs and didn't have the funds to make such a pilgrimage. We hoped we would be able to go later in the year. Thankfully, through the gift of frequent flyer miles from generous friends and by saving money for a few months, we were able to go to Italy in late December. We were so excited that three other couples who were college friends of ours were all able to go, too. So the eight of us planned a lovely trip to the Holy City as well as a side trip to Assisi, home of St. Francis. We got to see Pope John Paul II multiple times...Prayer on New Year's Eve, Mass on New Year's Day, the Wednesday Audience, and during his Sunday Angelus in the window.
Looking at St. Peter's Square from the Dome
Assisi from the valley
our ticket to the Wednesday Audience
We planned ahead with a priest who worked in the Vatican to get the special Wednesday Audience tickets that would allow us to sit at the front, wear our wedding clothes, and meet the pope in person! Our whole pilgrimage was magical. We stayed at a convent, visited all the Basilicas, went down into the catacombs, saw the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel, and got to attend several different New Years events with the Pope. We all had such beautiful visions of the future of our marriages and our families, with one couple already expecting their first child and the rest of us hoping for babies, too.
Our other Aggie Catholic newlywed friends who we traveled with:
Vito & Jen, Bradley & Susanna, and Annie & Steven
Breakfast at the Villa Angeli Convent where we stayed
Ice cream on the day we went to the catacombs
The morning of the Wednesday Audience, all of the wives got dressed up in our wedding clothes as if it was our wedding day again! It was so much fun. I was determined to carry flowers, and we were able to stop at a flower stand for a colorful bouquet of tulips, my favorite flower! We were some of the first couples to arrive at the Audience Hall and were so excited to get to sit up at the front, although it filled up and they later added a row in front of us ("the last shall be first!"). The pope gave a talk in different languages, we all prayed together, and then he greeted the different visitors, first the sick who were seated in the front row of the main section, and later the newlyweds.
Finding my tulip bouquet on the way to the Audience
Walking into St. Peter's Square headed to the Audience Hall
Our friends and the other newlyweds
during the Audience
Newlyweds lining up to meet the Holy Father
Our Big Moment!
We each went up, one couple at a time, and were able to kiss his ring and say a quick word. They told us to move quickly and not to kneel, but we did anyway! I told him that "We promise to raise saints." This was a spur of the moment promise, and I feel quite an obligation to follow through with it! We gazed into his eyes, he said "Happy New Year" in his awesome accent (they told him we were English-speaking), and then one of the assistants had to pull me off my knees and away from the pope! I wish we'd had more than a few seconds, but those moments were probably some of the most poignant moments of our lives. We touched a saint who is now in Heaven with God, who can intercede for us and whose life is a true example of Christian living.
Photos in the square and the Basilica after our Blessing
(many people assumed we'd just been married!)
It was a few months later that our marriage was blessed with new life, our first baby due on Christmas 2002! As we went through the holidays, and our baby hadn't arrived, I was disappointed and anxious to meet her. I was also hopeful that she'd arrive on one of the many feast days around that time...Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, St. Stephen, The Holy Family, Mary Mother of God, etc. She arrived on January 2nd, the Memorial of Sts. Basil and Gregory, not a very special feast day in my mind. It was only a few months later that I realized the date that she was born had a much greater meaning for our family. First of all, it was the wedding anniversary of my husband's departed grandparents, faithful Catholics who raised 11 children. But that date was also another very special anniversary...
Mary Clare was born exactly one year after we touched John Paul II. Realizing this was a reminder to me of the graces received from this pilgrimage, and the faithfulness of God as every little detail of our lives points to Him. We met a living saint and our lives will never be the same. We will always be called to live out our marriage and our Catholic faith in a radical way as John Paul II did. And I will always remember the promise I made to him. I hope that one day when our lives on earth are done, our family will all become saints, together united with Saint John Paul II and all the other holy men and women of God, those named by the Church and all the other faithful departed who live with God for eternity.
Mary Clare's baptism at one week old
"In the newborn child is realized the common good of the family."