Saturday, June 27, 2009

I Met The Pope

Honest! I really met and spoke with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in April, 1994. Why and how we were invited is a long story I'll share another day.

When my mother, who was raised a devout Catholic, heard my husband and I were invited to meet the Pope, she burned up the phone lines to all her church friends with the big news.

As our departure to Rome neared, I started receiving packages from my mother filled with photos, rosaries, and small mementos that she and her friends wanted the Pope to bless. I wasn't sure how I would make that happen, but I knew I would, at very least, carry them with me when I toured the Vatican.

The day of our big meeting, my husband and I made the long walk to the Vatican almost completely in silence. We were both deep in thought and were trying to take in the whole experience. Although we are not Catholic, the meeting was huge for us, and the anticipation of being in the presence of the spiritual leader for a billion people was pretty exciting.

Along the way, we stopped for gelato near a tiny gift shop filled with handmade linen handkerchiefs, all embroidered with lace, by lovely Italian women who were sitting around a table in the middle of the store. Their needle work was so stunning that I had a very hard time deciding which ones to buy-- Yes, plural. I wanted a few for myself and more for special gifts. After much nudging from my husband to hurry up, I selected five and thanked the women for their beautiful workmanship. I slipped the small bag into my jacket pocket.

Fast forward to the Pope meeting an hour later. My clothes pockets were also filled with the stash of items from my mother and her friends, so were my husband's pockets, and my purse.

As for actually talking to Pope John Paul II, one-on-one, as he held my hand-- I'll just leave it at-- amazing! All these years later, I still can't find the words to adequately describe it.

When he blessed us, I knew my mother's mementos for her and her friends had a little bit of that blessing too. Like I said, I'm not Catholic but it was a very meaningful for me on many levels.

Two years ago, I gave my step-daughter one of the Italian linen "Pope handkerchiefs" for her wedding.

Last weekend I gave another one to my lovely niece for her wedding.

A third was used twelve years ago on the day I met my then three-day-old godson. Carrying on my mother's tradition when her five children were born, I undressed him and counted his perfect fingers and toes. Then for safe keeping, I took one of the linen handkerchiefs blessed by the Pope, and rubbed it all over his tiny body. I figured it couldn't hurt. I'll save his "Pope Hankie" for his future wife on their wedding day.

Do you have any traditions?
Welcome to The Fifty Factor - Joanna


  1. What a neat experience and memory. One that will be treasured forever.

  2. This is a lovely story. What perfect gifts for your loved ones on their special days.

  3. What a lovely story that is. And OK, I have to tell you that this guy is a hero in my family. Because he was the only Polish Pope and the first non Italian. My mother is a devout Catholic too and would have been exactly like your mother. She would have been burning up the phone lines.

    I think people like to put down Popes and the wealth of the Church but this one was instrumental in ending communism in Poland and eventually all of Central, Southern and Eastern Europe. I think he did so much to partner with other religions too. We might have gone backwards after he died. So you were meeting an extraordinary leader and human being (regardless of his religion). I am officially jealous, lol!!

    I recall being in Rome in 2005 at the time they were selecting the most recent Pope. It was fascinating. There were cameras everywhere waiting for the smoke to rise. But the thing that got me was how tiny the balcony is where the Pope comes out to speak to people in the square. It was just not the same as you see on television. And I have never seen so many priests and nuns of all kinds and so many beggars as well. I went from a lapsed Catholic to going back to Church after that.

    Wonderful memory for you to have - in fact historic - and its great you have all of these blessed gifts to pass on to your family at special times. This man was so much more than just a figurehead. And now I have written a book instead of a brief comment - your posts do that to me strangely, lol!!

  4. How wonderful!! I look forward to hearing how you got this great honor.

    A friend gave me a square of fabric that had been blessed by the pope. I still have it.

  5. You never cease to amaze me. What a story; not just because of meeting the Pope, but because of all that came out of it.

    No traditions on this end of the USA

  6. I'm not Catholic either but I would have had the same feelings you had I think!

    We carry on a tradition from my husband's side of the family during the holiday season of making perogies and Polish mushroom soup. I'm so glad he still wants to make that now that we've started a family of our own.

  7. Jo-
    Very deck. Gave me a little goosebumply feeling, even as a somewhat lapsed cynical Catholic.

    My late uncle was a priest and he spent a year studying in Rome - I have the picture of him meeting and greeting and shaking hands with Pope John Paul II. Quite cool - also, as one of the nieces and nephews who was married during this time frame, I have the official papal blessing on my marriage.

    The pressure to stay married now - Oy!


  8. Nice post. I am not Catholic but in the 60's we were stationed in Turkey. The Pope at the time paid a visit and all the military families were invited to attend a service with the Pope. It was unforgettable. They always do so much to help achieve Peace in the world. We had a new movie camera and I was thought I had taken his picture disembarking the airplane - well I did but I had turned the film reel one two many times and when you see the video, he is coming down the stairs right over my children on a camel.

  9. Lovely story Joanna - beautiful. I can relate to 'walking there in silence' - I recently went back to Paris and visited the Notre Dame again. It was packed inside but eerily quiet, the choir was singing and as I sat there I soon found myself in tears; I'm not a religious person but it got to me. It's amazing the effect it can have on us.

    Traditions my end? Eating an ice-cream on the sea front along with all the tourists when it's sunny.

  10. Great story! I was also raised great Aunt was a Mom was the youngest of 9.

    I had the chance to bring my Mom to work/layover in Rome for Christmas in 1998. I didn't have the chance to meet the Pope up close (lucky) but we heard him speak on Christmas Day! It is a great memory for us both. I bought and brought back those lovely, rose smelling rosary beads for all my Catholic relatives..I now have the ones I bought a special Aunt who has since passed, an although I am not religious either, I keep them in my suitcase with me everywhere I go: )

    Thanks for reminding me of a beautiful place....I also got engaged in Rome!

  11. I LOVE that you did that for your family members. I was baptized Catholic, but we never practiced it, and my father called us "jack-Catholic". I think that means he pooh-poohed the church and so we did, which also meant that our religious education and rituals were nil. I'm totally glad about that, as I'm more of a spiritual girl. But I do love the meaningful rituals and traditions. I'd like to start some more in our family.

    I also really love that you will give that handkerchief to your godson's eventual wife. Priceless!

  12. thats a pretty neat tradition. we have given thought to tradition recently as it seems we have carried little forward in our family from our family. maybe we will start something new...

  13. that's wonderful how you were able to get everything so personally blessed and have treasured the items. Whenever my mother in law receives religious gifts, she always asks if they have been blessed. I know at the Vatican you can buy gifts that have been blessed by the Pope too.

  14. Great story - thanks for sharing it. Unfortunately, I don't have a tradition of my own to add, but I did enjoy reading yours. :)

  15. You are the coolest person ever...imagine. Pope hankies.

    I have a Pope bottle opener. I do too! A friend brought it back as a joke from the Vatican giftshop...I'm not kidding. Every time the Pope pops a top off a cold one, he gets a blessing from us. No, reall, we say, "Bless you your Holiness!"

    Not kidding...for real.

  16. Joanna! What an amaing story!!! Some day you must post the consequences that got you a personal audience with Pope John Paul II.

    I don't know a lot about all the Popes, but he was my favorite, in my weak understanding of their lineage.

    Two years ago my husband and I toured Italy for our tenth wedding anniversary "second honeymoon." While we were in Rome we toured the Vatican and Sistine Chapel and stood with the masses in St Peter's Square. The day we were there, a Saint was being cannonized and Pope Benedict XVI came to his window to bless the ceremony and all the worshipers. We bought up all the crosses and trinkets we could to be blessed because we were told the blessing penetrates pockets, gift bags, and sacks. It worked and I was able to bring both my parents crosses blessed by the Pope. Cool experience. Especially when the Pope spoke his blessings in about nine different languages.

    Thanks for reminding me of that wonderful experience... but tell us more (please!) about yours.

  17. What a great story. I loved reading of your family traditions and I can only imagine how amazing it must have been to have an audience with the Pope, xv

  18. What a wonderful tradition; sorry I don't have any of my own to share. Thanks so much for sharing this experience with us. Awesome!

  19. What a lovely story. I was never raised Catholic but I had plenty of Catholic friends growing up in the 'big apple'. That is such a tremendous occasion and the Pope is such a respected figure.

    And the way that you carry on your traditions is truly amazing.

    Love your blog. You now have a new friend and follower. :)

  20. I enjoyed your story, I can only imagine how excited you must of been. and the hankies sound so beautiful. Thanks for sharing and I hope you have a very nice weekend. Thanks for stopping by, enjoy the 4th and be safe.

  21. Now that was a VERY cool post! I'm not Catholic either, but I would still find deep meaning in that whole scenario. Very cool. And what a nice thing you did with your godson. How nice.

  22. I tried to read this yesterday but blogs weren't loading for me, for whatever reason...
    This was a great post, Joanna! Isn't it amazing how both of us posted about what we were doing in 1994? It's fun looking back. You were obviously having more fun than I was in 'Vegas! :)

    I think it's wonderful of you to give the very important mementos as gifts.

    Hugs and love,

  23. Joanna, I enjoyed reading this, and the special moment with your new godson, aww, how sweet. After seeing the movie Angels and Demons I would really love to visit Rome. I have not yet left Australia, man I need to travel one day!

  24. Joanna,
    What a wonderful story! I like that you have those hankies to give to special brides on their wedding day.

    I also have a Pope story, but it's my sister's story.
    My sister is a nun and has been for 44 years now. She is a Sister of Bon Secours (folks from Baltimore, Charlotte, SC, Richmond, VA and Detroit area may know that Order)
    Anyway, when Anne Marie was 47, she was having trouble with her period, it would come and go for days on end over a period of about 6 weeks. During this time she had to go to Rome on business and they had a chance to have a private audience with Pope John Paul II. Anne Marie got to shake hands with the Pope and she never got her period again! I told her the next time she goes to Rome, I'm going with her!

  25. What a lovely, lovely story.

    Thanks for sharing it. :)

  26. Wow, what an amazing experience! How did you, as a non-Catholic, even get invited to meet the pope?
    I think the tradition of undressing the new baby and using the blessed hankie on him is beautiful.

    Justine :o )

  27. Lovely story! We visited the Vatican when we were in Italy, and saw the Pope from a distance in his Pope-mobile. A columnist buddy of mine got to meet him in person, and gave me a photo of himself kissing the Pope's ring. A very special moment indeed!

  28. Very touching experience and one that certainly has had tremendous upsides to your family members. No family traditions at that level in my family but I do remember seeing Pope John Paul II's tomb when I visited the Vatican last Fall. Truly an awesome experience.

  29. You are such an awesome author and what an awesome story. I read it but could not come up with a good comment. I waited a full day and what comment can I've been to Rome to see the Pope!

  30. Wow! Thank you for sharing this with us, and I do so hope that you'll share the other part of the story (how you came to see the Pope), if it's not asking too much...

  31. How amazing! I love the idea of those hankies!

  32. Thanks everyone for commenting. It was truly an amazing experience that I will never forget.

    I've been swamped lately with workers at my house making head-banging nose so I've been away from the computer.

    Please keep those cards and letters coming. I'll be by to visit you soon. xo


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