Thursday, June 16, 2011


I have been blessed to see two of our Popes in person; one I saw two times. Now, in Rome again, I was going to see Pope Benedict XVI. Dee’s archbishop in Anchorage wrote for tickets for us, and when we picked up our tickets we were told that we must be special because our tickets were for the area on the same level as the Pope. The audience was to begin at 10:30 a.m. I was excited and wide awake and ready to get up at 6 a.m., but remained quiet until shortly before 7 a.m. We arrived at St. Peter’s around 8:30 a.m., thanks to a taxi driver who was good, but kept me gasping with his near hits. No, those were not near misses, they were definitely near hits!

At St. Peter’s we went through security and passed thousands of people already there. Our seats were up on a dais close to the Pope. I put on my huge straw hat and sunscreen as the sun bore down. Some people had umbrellas up shielding them from the sun. We knew they knew they were going to have to lower those umbrellas when the Pope arrived. It got hotter and hotter. Several bishops came in along with their friends.

We saw a young priest enter with an older priest. The senior man went to the area closest to the Pope. The junior man came to our row looking for a seat. Apparently he was told the seats were all taken. He turned away dejected and went to the other side to sit where he could only see the back of the Pope’s head. There was an empty seat next to me, and Dee went over and brought him back. He was a young Cistercian who was the private secretary to the Abbott of the order who now sat near the Pope’s chair. I was delighted that he joined us because it gave Dee somebody else to talk to since she had exhausted the family from Texas on the other side of us. Just kidding...sorta!

And suddenly people at the front began standing, and like a wave, people in row after row stood and there in his Pope mobile was the Vicar of Christ himself. Pope Benedict XVI stood waving and smiling, and the applause broke out and didn’t stop. He went up and down row after row, and smiled as if he was as thrilled as we were. Maybe he was. Finally the car drove right up to the dais and the Pope walked to his chair. The readings began. They were about Sodom and Gomorrah. And then the Pope spoke about our society, and in so many words, apologized again for the abuse by some priests. Methinks he has apologized enough because every time he does several hundred false claimants reach for the phone to call Jeffrey Anderson or some other lowlife attorney for some spending money to the detriment of some innocent priests!

Greetings began in various languages. The Pope always added his own special message when the presenter finished speaking. There was one language that we could not identify. Dee said she knew the Pope was not going to speak in that language. Wrong! Ah, what a Pope we have!

I took a number of items to be blessed by the Pope and I was holding them in both hands. I was barely able to make the Sign of the Cross. But I was blessed along with my “family” which includes my family of broken priests, my “other parents” – Mama Gladys and Daddy Dougie, my sisters, and if Ebony had been here, she too would have gotten a blessing. Those items are very, very special and most will be given to my “family” members. Unfortunately I can only share prayer cards with my priests in prison.

It was a magical day even though there were thousands of pilgrims seated in St. Peter’s Square, and hundreds more standing around. Pope Benedict always has a serene expression on his face and when he smiles, his face seems to light up. An aura of holiness surrounds him. He appears to be a man of peace, and a man at peace. What a burden he carries. There is a room in the Vatican called the “Crying Room.” It is the room into which the Pope-designate goes to ponder the burden the cardinals have asked him to undertake – to guide the Roman Catholics of the world. He meditates and prays in this room. Then he dresses in his papal garb, and comes out to lead the Church. It is said that every man has come out of that room in tears. I can understand why.

The first pope I saw was Pope Paul VI who visited the United Nations in 1965. He requested a special audience with the common folk, i.e., clerical staff and others who were not members of a diplomatic delegation to the UN. I was thrilled until I learned that each office would have a certain number of tickets allotted, and we would have to draw for a ticket. My boss was the head of two departments: Archives and Records Retirement. I was the only Catholic in my office, and I desperately wanted to win a ticket. Shortly after the drawing, my boss’ secretary from Archives called me. Frieda was Jewish. She said, “Charlene, I just drew a ticket to see the Pope. I want to see him, but I know it would mean so much to you to hear him, so I want to give you my ticket.” What an offer! I was overwhelmed, but I was able to tell Frieda that I too had drawn a ticket. She rejoiced with me, and together, the two of us, a Catholic and a Jew, attended the special meeting sought by Pope Paul VI. She was as excited as I was to see and hear the Pope. During his talk he told us that he brought each of us a present. I could hardly wait to receive my present.

After two weeks and no present, I called the office of the Secretary-General to ask about it. I was told that the presents would be given out shortly. I waited another two weeks and I called again. This time I said I was going to contact the Pope and tell him the UN was not giving us our presents. And this time I was told the truth: the Pope had not brought enough medals for the staff, and they had to figure out a diplomat way to tell him, and then he had to have additional medals made. So they held onto the medals the Pope had brought with him, and waited for him to send the rest of them. I waited not exactly patiently, but I waited. And then came the day we received our presents!

Each bronze medal was nestled in a small, suede-like bag. It is about two inches in diameter. On one side of the medal is the Pope’s coat of arms and the words Paulus .VI. Pont. VI. UN.4.Oct.1965 [Paul VI Supreme Pontiff, United Nations, 4 October, 1965]. On the other side is a burning bush and the words “Amoris Alumna Pax,” student of love and peace. What a thrill it was for all of us at the UN to receive a bronze medal, a blessed gift from the Pope himself. I had my medal encased, and I now wear it around my neck on special occasions. It is one of my most precious possessions… a gift from a Pope, the Vicar of Christ.
Two years later I visited Rome for the first time enroute to East Pakistan for a two year UN assignment. I managed to get a ticket for an audience with Paul VI, and imagine my surprise to find myself in an audience of several thousands. It was still a treat to see the pontiff.

I have been blessed three times to see two different Popes. The one I yearned to see was Blessed Pope John Paul II. He was my favorite because he made everyone feel special, went everywhere, met all kinds of people, forgave his would-be killer, kissed the ground when he arrived in a country (how often I have wanted to do that in sheer relief at landing safely!), and everybody loved him, even people who were not Catholic. He suffered much before he died. He showed us how to die although few of us, if any, will die with thousands of people beneath our window praying for us, wanting us to remain with them, but knowing that God waited for him on the other side. Blessed John Paul almost gave his life for us. It was our Blessed Mother who took him in her arms that day and saved him. No, selfishly I didn’t want him to leave us, but he deserved to rest in peace with our Lord. I doubt that there will ever be another Pope with such a scintillating personality, deep spirituality, obvious joie de vivre, and who will be so loved, especially by the youth. In their words, “The Pope rocks!” High acclaim indeed.

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