Saint Therese never fails me! The beautiful saint of the late nineteenth century who wrote that she would spend her time in Heaven doing good upon Earth has been a patron and friend of mine for years now. I have often prayed to her to intercede to God for me for various occasions and circumstances.
Before I went to college, I prayed a novena (a set of prayers to be said for nine days in petition for something) to her that I would get a wonderful roommate (after hearing countless horror stories about college roommates, I prayed that mine would be positive!). I am confident that Saint Therese listened to me and prayed for me since God granted me an amazing roommate who is one of my best friends and a fellow pilgrim on my pilgrimage to Rome.
Therefore, I knew Saint Therese would not let me down when I began a novena before my trip to the Eternal City. I prayed, however selfishly, that I could meet Pope Francis if it was compliable with God’s will. After all, Saint Therese knew where I was coming from. She, too, made a pilgrimage to Rome when she was a teenager and actually met the Pope, herself!
She threw her body at Pope Leo XIII’s feet and begged that he grant her the favor of admitting her into the Carmelite convent at the early age of fifteen. Of course, Pope Leo XIII was taken back by her bold request and responded that it would happen if it was according to God’s will and the will of the church elders. Still, Saint Therese refused to budge from the feet of the Pope, and the Swiss Guards had to escort her away!
Saint Therese felt the same strong desire that I felt. We both wanted to speak to the Pope who is God’s chosen servant and Saint Peter’s successor. In doing so, we hoped to respond to our own callings and stake our claim in the arms of our Church at the feet of our shepherd. I just prayed that I would not have to be escorted away by the Swiss Guard when I did!
During my time in Rome, I continued to pray that I would meet Pope Francis and speak to him about our Church. I wanted to express my desire to serve my Church and the young people of the world and draw them back to Jesus. I wanted to talk to him about education in my nation and in the world – how tragic it is that students are not able to receive a quality education. I also wanted to ask him for direction in how I could change that as a future teacher.
The night of Vespers with the Pope finally arrived and we were told that we would be terrifically close to the front! I was ecstatic and immediately thought, this is it! This is when I can meet the Pope!
My roommate, Jacquelyn, and I sat a couple seats away from the barrier where he would pass by in procession. We had elbowed and fought our way through the crowds to get such good seats. I anxiously awaited his arrival; however, since it was a prayerful and reverent event, the Holy Father did not mingle with the crowd, and instead, piously processed down the aisle. I did not have any life-changing interaction with him that I had hoped for, and I left a little bit discouraged. Yet, I knew there would be another chance at the Wednesday morning Audience.
We got to the Vatican very early, but seemingly not early enough. The line to get through security outside of the event winded in chaotic lines, and I found myself a little defeated when I thought of all the people before me in line claiming prime seats. I tried not to feel jealous or disappointed, and instead, prayed Hail Mary’s to myself as I waited. I implored Saint Therese several times in line, and told Jesus, “If it’s according to your will, pleeeaaase let me meet the Pope.”
We finally found our way inside the warm venue, and I rushed to grab an aisle seat on the far side. All of the seats lining the center aisle were already taken, of course, so I settled for one on the perimeter and prayed that the Pope would process on the outskirts of the auditorium. I soon realized he would not, however, and that I was just stuck with a rather lousy seat.
As we sat through the audience event, I stood up and cheered among dead silence when an American bishop announced that universities from America were there (praying that I would get the Pope’s attention). I decided that I would just have to thrown myself at the feet of Pope Francis, like Saint Therese did, if I wanted to get his attention among the thousands of people that were there.
The joyful ceremony ended and the Pope mingled with Argentinian and Chilean soldiers in the front for about twenty-five minutes. My friends Jacquelyn, Mary, and I rushed to the center aisle seats where people were leaving (I have no clue why they even left!). We found a spot to stand behind a crowd who were congregating at the barrier to await the Pope’s exit out of the building.
As time went on, I somehow got further away from the center aisle and got to the point where I could not even see anything except the backs of people’s heads (oh, the joy that comes with being 5’2”). I accepted with defeat that I would not get to meet the Pope, let alone see him walk down the aisle.
Suddenly, Jacquelyn instructed me to crouch into the small space created between a boy standing on a chair whose arm was leaning against the shoulder of another tall man carrying a little girl on his shoulders. I thought she was crazy, but I did it anyway and remained in this awkward wall-sit position under this man’s armpit for a minute. All of a sudden, the boy put his arm down and somehow I was able to stand and step forward with Jacquelyn into the front of the crowd (only one tiny woman stood before me at the barrier between us and the aisle). I was arms length away from the soon-to-be Pope procession. It was a miracle.
We eagerly waited there for a few minutes and finally Pope Francis began to make his way down the aisle. He mingled with the crowd in a zig-zag motion between the multitudes surrounding the aisle and made a bee-line straight for us. I screamed, “PAPA FRANCISCO!” as loud as I possibly could (putting nine year old One Direction fans to shame with my enthusiasm). He looked me straight in the eye and blessed us with the motion of the Sign of the Cross. I proceeded to yell and repeat, “UN REGALO PARA TI!!!!” (which translates from Spanish as “a present for you!”). I crazily waved my envelope in the air.
The night before, I wrote him a letter in Spanish (with the help of my two classmates who are fluent) that discussed education and asked for his advice about our schools and my future as a teacher. I also suggested that Pope Francis come to San Francisco, too, when he travels to the United States this September. I included in my letter a cross of Saint Francis I bought for him while I was in Assisi.
Pope Francis looked shocked (and probably a little scared from my commotion). He paused and motioned to himself as if asking, “For me?!” He smiled graciously, said thank you, and I handed him my letter. He then passed it to a guard so that he could shake hands with the women on the left of me, and I touched his arm as he walked away. He even held Jacquelyn’s hand! Below is the video Jacquelyn O’Neill shot:
As Pope Francis exited, Jacquelyn and I turned to each other and jumped with excitement. The woman in front of me who spoke Italian joined our celebration as she cried. We were all shaking from overwhelming joy.
I immediately thanked Jesus and Saint Therese for granting my prayer and for allowing me to share a moment with Pope Francis by giving my letter to him. I am still in shock that I met Pope Francis, who embodies the love and kindness of Christ Jesus in the world today. I am so incredibly happy and thankful for such an amazing experience that I’ll treasure forever. I am also quite grateful that Saint Therese saved me of having to be escorted away by the Swiss Guard in the process, like she did!
Since the calling feature on my phone does not work while I am out of the country, I am not sure if Pope Francis has tried to call me or leave me a voicemail. But I do not mind because the memory of his exuberant smile and gentle eyes wash over me constantly, and that is all I could ask for. Thank you Saint Therese. – Meaghan Osborne