Columnist: The pope and five protestants
It was right before Christmas in 2011, when my two daughters and I were sitting at a breakfast table looking as if the world had ended or had lost us.
My middle daughter, Heather, at 39 was fighting the effects of the last rounds of chemotherapy. Her sister had flown in from Seattle to help.
Avery, Heather’s daughter, was in school that particular morning when the three of us were left staring into coffee mugs and silence was all that filled the air. Heather was leaning on her arm as if her head couldn’t hold itself up. Her pale face still beautiful while the scarf she wore around her head was neatly tied and actually quite pretty.
Amy sipped her coffee and her dark eyes seemed troubled and scared.
“You know what?!” my voice splitting the deafening silence.
Heather’s head raised up off her arm. Amy’s eyes widened.
“If we make it through this whole mess intact, I am taking us to Italy!”
It had always been a dream to take my family to Europe. I had been saving points from my credit card for years. I wasn’t even sure how many I had, but knew it was impressive. It was like my own little savings plan.
David, my husband; my son; David’s two girls and I had gone to Italy in 2005. Avery was a newborn and couldn’t go, so I always thought one day I would take the girls.
I fell in love with Italy. When you have an Italian name like Gendusa, you feel as if you belong.
We refilled our coffee cups, and started dreaming and planning. Amy and Heather really weren’t too sure it would ever take place, but the silence was gone, joy was there, and there was a spark in Heather’s eyes.
Well, to make a very long story short, five people boarded a plane bound for Rome on a sunny day in March 2013: Heather and her husband, Mike; Avery; Amy and myself. David could not go because of business, but we did have his blessing.
We chose March because of spring break for Avery. March would also find Italy less crowded and not as hot.
We were to start in Rome, then to Tuscany, then off to the Amalfi Coast. I booked the trip one year in advance and dared cancer to mess with me. There was something within me that pushed and pushed until we made a spark become fire. It was planned perfectly. There was nothing going to stop us!
Then Pope Benedict resigned. The papal conclave would be held in Rome on the Monday following the very weekend we were to tour the Vatican. We were to meet our guide, Maria, in Saint Peter’s square on Saturday morning, March 9, 2013, at 8 a.m.
To say the world descended on Rome is an understatement. People were everywhere.
Throughout my daughter’s yearlong battle with cancer, I have said many times that my faith went to a new level. I gave God my daughter and trusted Him and His will. Now, her scarves were in a drawer somewhere, her eyes always sparkled and life was returning to some sort of normalcy.
Saint Peter’s square is an amazing place. So magnificently large where crowds gather to catch a glimpse of the pope and to be blessed. The Obelisk, in the center, is supposedly the site where Peter was crucified. When you stand there and look around at where you are, it is a “chills” moment.
We met Maria and she was lovely. She took a special interest in telling Avery all that she was about to see in a way only an 8 year old can understand. The crowds had not yet arrived, so the square was fairly empty.
Since I had visited the Vatican on my prior trip, I stepped about 3 feet away from the family and turned to look at the scene around me.
The Basilica was behind me. The Catholic cardinals from around the world were all in the Vatican apartments to my left. Media scaffolding was erected around the perimeter of the square. Cameras were not yet manned; birds flew in circles above us, and workers were putting the smoke stack on the Sistine Chapel.
While I was standing in the midst of this very holy place, I saw a figure in the far left corner of the square walking from outside the Vatican and into the square.
The only reason I would notice this far away man was the scarlet red of his scarf at the waist of his vestment and on his biretta adorning the top of his head.
My first thought was, “Is that a Cardinal and if so, what is he doing out here?” Surely it is someone dressed like one.
My eyes fixated on him as he walked closer and closer. He cut a diagonal path across the square as if aiming right at this little cluster of a family and a guide named Maria.
We are a family of protestants, but I knew something was awry for this man to be doing what he was doing.
The closer he got, Maria turned and saw him. She, too, stopped talking.
I thought surely he would go around us, but no, he walked between us. I touched the sleeve of his simar, noticed his ring, and as he walked he bowed his head to us, smiled and he and I both said something, but have no idea what.
I watched him walk away. I had noticed his hands, the back of his head, his glasses, his gait and then turned to Maria.
“Is that normal?” I questioned.
“No,” she replied. “Maybe he will be our new papa!”
My favorite verse in the Bible is a simple one. Many years ago when I was going through a fierce struggle I prayed earnestly. My Bible fell open to the floor from the table it was on, and I saw this red letter quote: “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”
In all of our struggles in life it is our faith that can heal us. Not only from sickness, but within our hearts and souls. Faith is a brace for our lives. It gives us guts and strength to go through our trials and tribulations. Without faith, there are no lasting sparkles of hope.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio, confirmed to five touring protestants, that because they had faith, they were blessed by God through a man whose name would be forever changed in three short days — to Pope Francis.