Published October 14, 2004
John Paul II was elected to the highest position in Christendom when I was a freshman in high school. As much as he appeals to the Catholic youth of today, he made quite an impression on me almost 25 years ago. I remember his visit to San Francisco 17 ago because it was right before JD and I were married. I have pictures my parents took from Candlestick Park where the Pontifical Mass was offered by the Holy Father. I wasn’t able to go for some reason or other, probably because of work. I remember being a little jealous that I missed the opportunity. The pictures my parents shot look like typical pictures from the 80’s – where you see a throng of people and this little white man somewhere in the distance. It seemed impossible to get close to the most popular, most published and traveled pontiff in recent history.
JD’s mother, whom I affectionately call MoMaher and I went to Italy for a favorite cousin’s wedding. We were to spend three weeks visiting family with one week in Rome. I had my mother in law on her heels for that week, dragging her around to every church I wanted to visit and making sure we saw as much as we could in the short span of time we had there. We talked about this trip for several months before we left and all the fun we would have with the cugini (cousins).
Before we left the states, I asked my priest who had studied for several years in Rome whether he had met ‘the big guy’. He said no, but his brother had. I asked him how it all happened and he told me about this process whereby one is recommended by their pastor, and their bishop and then once the Vatican receives these written communiqués, then it’s the luck or the blessings of getting “the call” when you are in Rome. Literally, those who go to Rome, hoping to see the Pope in private, don’t know ahead of time, until the day before whether they will be selected to attend the private Mass of the Holy Father. Shortly, before leaving for Italy, I was able to obtain the necessary recommendations and off we went on our Italian adventure. I was told by Bishop Weigand’s secretary not to get my hopes up as people rarely get “the call” as many requests are received worldwide for this privilege of attending the Pope’s private Mass in his papal apartment. I left it up to the even bigger Guy upstairs and was looking forward to seeing the family and taking in Italia.
Gloria and I had a splendid time with all the family, who are Northern Italians, fun loving, generous in spirit and hospitality. I infused the food and cooking into my soul and vowed to never cook from a box ever again. There is simply something other-worldly about the Italians and when you are with ala familia, well, there is nothing else like it. It was better than Frances Mayes. Better than ‘Moonstruck’, we were treated like queens.
We arrived in Rome for our side trip and after a week of pilgrimage to every hot spot that Catholics would find edifying, we failed to get “the call” at our hotel after five days. We were in a café drinking wine on our second to last day, eating this incredible risotto, when I said to MoMaher “just you watch, we’ll get back to the hotel and there will be a message from the Vatican”. We laughed it off as absolutely impossible and were grateful we saw as much as we had seen.
True to my intuition, as soon as we walked through the door, the concierge with a serious tone to his voice told us in Italian that we had a very important message from the Vatican. My heart started to pound in my chest like a time bomb and my palms began to sweat. The hotel manager, who had hardly regarded us for the last four days, soon became attentive and very accommodating. I’m sure he wondered who we were. At that point we didn’t know ourselves.
We spoke to a nun at the Vatican residence who spoke English. She gave us the important news that we were invited the very next day to come to the papal apartments and attend the private Mass of the Vicar. We were pretty stunned. For me it was very emotional to contemplate the prospect, because even better than meeting the President of the United States, this was for a faithful Catholic, an even bigger lifelong dream come true.
I spent all night at Church and could hardly eat. I remember praying all fifteen decades of the rosary because I couldn’t fall asleep. For some reason, there was so much I wanted to say if given the chance but the words I know would fail me as soon the opportunity came, so I decided to write a letter to him and afterwards, feeling much better, I feel into a very peaceful sleep. Like getting the golden ticket from Willy Wonka, I could hardly believe what awaited us the next day.
Next column I will finish the story of our adventures with the Pope. It was an incredible time with my MoMaher that I will never forget. Stay tuned.
Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org