The year was 1990, and as part of my last hurrah in college, I’d arrived in Rome with the rest of my college cohorts, ready for adventure and to soak in as much of the city as we could on that whirlwind trip through the European continent.
And there I was, one of the few Catholics in the bunch as I can recall, and not fully able to appreciate what I was in the middle of experiencing.
But I did know I wanted to see the pope — Pope John Paul II at the time. And we’d been shown, on our tour, where he typically lingered when in town. And so we waited, and watched, but nothing. The pope wasn’t in that day, or not that we could tell. There was no papal Mass, nothing to help me feel the indelible connection with the rich history of my faith that I would have wanted.
And ever since then, I have wondered, will there be another chance?
I’ve yet to get back to Europe, and who knows? It may or may not happen. But when I learned Pope Francis had scheduled a trip to the United States this September, my birthday month, immediately I began dreaming.
Even if I couldn’t get back to Rome — though it is on my bucket list — I began envisioning a possible run-in with Pope Francis in Philly. Even if I just caught a glimmer of him, to be in his presence, just for a little while; to see in person the vicar of Christ would be unbelievable.
I could feel the possibilities that might come from such an adventure — the chance to attend the 2015 World Meeting of Families — growing in my heart with each passing month. The stories I could write! This would be better than Rome, perhaps, I thought. I’m at a different time of my life — a more mature time — and I would appreciate it like never before, this chance to come in contact with our holy father.
But how? I pondered and prayed, but things did not seem to be working in my favor. And so I gave it one last attempt one night at the Adoration chapel. “Lord, if you want me there, if you want me to share the stories of hope that can come first from you alone, then you will have to make it happen. I cannot, on my own, see a way.”
And then I got the email asking whether I’d be interested in going to Philly in September. (Would I be interested?!) Could this be it? The answer to my prayers? It was still just a thought, but my interest was being tapped. It would be a while before I’d know for sure. So I waited, and waited some more, and in all that waiting I began to feel hope waning, and wondering if in all the silence, God had given me His answer.
“Okay, I can accept that if it’s your will,” I said to God one evening in my prayers. “But why do I have this strong yearning in me, to tell the stories that will come forth, and yet, no way to get there?” I felt frustrated and let down, and even allowed myself the faltering thought that maybe I simply wasn’t worthy. Who was I, after all, to ask for such a thing? Perhaps others were more deserving.
And then, late last week, I got the phone call; the call saying that things have fallen into place, and that I would be flown to Philly in September as a writer for the Diocese of Fargo, and that I was free to tell the stories that would come; stories mostly from the local perspective. And though I’d be going mainly as a diocesan representative, I could write for others, too. I would not be restricted in sharing the stories that would emerge as a result of my joining the pilgrimage.
I will never forget where I was sitting — in a wheelchair in Hobby Lobby waiting for my friend to do her exchanges. Tired out from a late night of visiting, I knew it might be a long wait, so I’d plopped down in one of the “courtesy chairs” to take a little breather. While sitting, I checked my voice mail, wondering, could this be it?
I wanted to scream for joy, but I contained myself, all the way out to my friend’s vehicle. Not until we got inside did I tell her the great news I’d been suppressing; news that had me practically jumping out of my skin in excitement and joy!
Later, as I let the reality sink in, all I could say, over and over, was, “Thank you, Lord. I want to do your will and write the stories YOU want me to tell. I’m open and ready. Thank you for the chance!”
Indeed, I am grateful, and so excited to join that entourage that will bring me close to the feet of one of the most vibrant leaders of the Christian world. Pope Francis is a controversial figure, but one I am listening to closely, and he’s come at an incredibly interesting time in history; a time when Christians are being persecuted, and religion has taken a huge hit; a time when the things dear to the believer are being challenged, and elimination of many good things being proposed.
Whether you are Catholic or not, Christian or not, a believer or not, it’s hard to escape the reality that Pope Francis is here for this time and place to tell us something important.
I am all three of those, and I am alert and ready, wondering what the pope will say to the families gathered, to encourage us in our walk, and what Jesus the Christ will say through him to me.
“Speak, Lord, your servant is listening…pen and paper in hand.”
Would you please pray for me in this journey ahead, that I might be a fitting vessel?
Q4U: If you could ask Pope Francis any question, what would it be?