Sarah Dickmeyer has seen Pope Benedict XVI twice and wrote this reminiscence of her encounter. (Submitted by Sarah Dickmeyer)
It was a blistering hot Wednesday on July 14, 2010, in Castel Gandolfo, Italy. This beautiful resort community overlooking Lake Albano is about an hour outside of Rome and is the summer residence of the Pope. Our tour guide, The Catholic Traveler lined up tickets so that my fellow pilgrims and I could have our chance to see the Pope. Unlike in Rome, where thousands of people gather in St. Peters square hoping to catch a glimpse of the Holy Father, we would be sharing the space with just a few hundred people. To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect from the Papal Audience, but I was incredibly excited as we waited to see the Successor of Peter and the Vicar of Jesus Christ.
Sarah's encounter with Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo (Submitted by Sarah Dickmeyer)We navigated through the Swiss Guards and grabbed our spot, no more than fifty feet away from where Pope Benedict would come out onto his balcony and greet his flock below. The excitement filled the plaza and the whole atmosphere took on the form of a sporting event, with people clapping, cheering, and waving flags representing their home country as we waiting patiently for his arrival. When he appeared, the crowd erupted into cries of, "Papa! Papa!" Many pilgrims snapped pictures with their phones and cameras. The Pope, whose contagious smile I noticed immediately, greeted the audience not only in Italian but English, French, German, Spanish and many other languages, welcoming all of the groups who traveled from afar to see him.
A group of Spanish nuns near our group broke into song at one point, the serenade of which he acknowledged, and a little girl no older than six years, sat on her father's shoulders while she cheered and waved excitedly towards the Holy Father. The majority of his teachings were in Italian and even though I didn't understand the words he was saying, a sense of peace and joy overcame me.
Then, at the end of the audience, he provided his Apostolic Blessing upon us and blessed the religious articles we had with us. My mom had her rosary and some religious jewelry she was given as gifts, and I had my rosary I received some 10-plus years before for my Confirmation. What my Mom and I had witnessed and experienced together was something that we will always cherish.
Sarah's encounter with Benedict XVI and the "Popemobile" at St Peter's Square (Submitted by Sarah Dickmeyer)The story continues as I had a second opportunity to see the Pope, this time in St. Peter's Square before a Canonization Mass in October of 2011. I flew over with the same travel company and a new group of pilgrims. On this beautiful, crisp Sunday morning, we strategically selected our seats right up against the rails. We knew that as the Pope would make his processional to the altar, he would more than likely be making his way, right in front of us.
As the processional of Cardinals began, sure enough, our seats were in prime location of catching a glimpse as he was be escorted in his 'Popemobile'. He drove by, no more than fifteen feet away, and I couldn't help but be drawn in to him more because of his smile. He seemed so gentle, loving, kind, and peaceful. All I could do was just to smile and wave in return.
When I awoke this week to the news of Pope Benedict's resignation, immediately I was sad, but the more I've been able to reflect, the more appreciation and admiration I have for the Holy Father. What an act of courageous discipline it must have been to hear God's will in this decision. I'm amazed at the humility, understanding, and self awareness Pope Benedict showed the world this week. I'm not sure that any other leader in this world could say that he cares enough about the people he serves or has the humility enough to recognize when the job that is required of him might best be done by someone other than himself. What a task this was for him to discern God's will indeed.
And the greatest thing about this story: Mom planned a few months ago to go on another Italian Pilgrimage with the same group March 15-23; the conclave to elect the next Bishop of Rome will begin during her trip. There is a chance she will be in St. Peter's Square as the smoke from the Sistine Chapel changes color. Divine intervention? Perhaps.
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