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A gift for Grandma

First slide

I almost didn’t meet the pope.

When I realized that my seminary class trip to Italy would take place over our Christmas break and I would miss my grandma’s 100th birthday, I considered not going. However, it was with her that I first traveled there when I was 13 years old and saw Pope John Paul II, and I knew she wouldn’t want me to miss this opportunity. All she asked for was a pearl rosary.

Our trip started in the commercial city of Milan to see the tomb of St. Ambrose and celebrate Mass and pray at the tomb of our seminary patron, St. Charles Borromeo. We then traveled through the countryside to the tranquil town of Assisi and prayed at the tombs of Sts. Francis and Clare. After that, we were on to the bustling Eternal City, Rome. 

We were blessed to spend time with so many of the saints who are buried in Rome: St. Philip Neri, St. Robert Bellarmine, St. John Paul II and St. Aloysius.

Early in the morning of a Wednesday last month, we walked through the piazza in front of majestic St. Peter’s Basilica, our cassocks whipping behind us in the crisp January air. In the crypt of the basilica, directly beneath the main altar, is a small chapel with the actual bones of St. Peter. Our group had the unforgettable grace of celebrating Mass on the altar directly in front of his bones. 

Following Mass, we walked over to the Paul VI Hall where we joined about 5,000 others for Pope Francis’ weekly Wednesday audience. As we found our seats, we were surprised to be invited to take a group picture with the pope at the end.

As the audience finished, we were whisked to the front of the stage along with other visiting groups from around the world. The pope made his way through the groups — a brief greeting, a photo snapped, the group dispersing.  As our turn neared, I anticipated a similar scenario. Imagine my surprise when he got to our group and began to shake our hands one by one.

After taking the group photo, he turned around and said to us in English, “Pray for me. I need it. This is very difficult.” My Arlington classmate, John Paul Heisler, said in Spanish, “My family prays the rosary for you every day.” As the pope acknowledged his comment, I formulated in my head what I would say when my turn came.

I seized the opportunity as he stood directly in front of me. “Today is my grandma’s 100th birthday,” I said in Italian. “One hundred years?” he replied, “And she’s still living?” He turned to an assistant who handed him a small white box. He gave it to me saying, “Give this to your grandma for her birthday from the pope.” 

As I stood there shocked at what had just happened, the Holy Father waved goodbye to us and moved to the next group. When I walked outside, I opened the white box. Inside was a pearl rosary, just what grandma asked for. 

Smith, who is from the Basilica of St. Mary Church in Alexandria, is in his third year of theology at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pa.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020