A couple years ago, just a few months after I had two new knees replaced by Dr. Sridhar, my Sacred Heart - St. Gerard combined choir (I was a director then) made a trip planned to the Vatican to sing at St. Peter's - and also to meet the Pope for the Wednesday Papal gathering.
For a number of days before that particular Wednesday, the entire choir traveled Venice - Padua - Florence - Sienna - Assisi and Rome - a fabulous trip! Along the way, my husband Dick was my official wheelchair pusher - since he was not sure whether I was going to be able to hold up on the cobblestones. The doctor had said I'd be OK - but it didn't take long to realize, Italy has some "hard roads" to travel - so the rented wheel chair was probably the best $100 Dick ever spent.
When it came time to attend the Papal audience, we were in line with thousands of people waiting to get into the auditorium, which seats about ten thousand. As we got closer to the doors, I realized there was going to be a "different deal" for people in wheelchairs - but I thought we'd be able to catch up to our choir group which was ahead of us. Once inside, we eventually got farther and farther behind, and soon we could only make out briefly, the last person in our group - there were so many people. When we approached the door - a big guy with a broken nose - who couldn't speak English just like us...no Italian, signaled us to the right. I tried to explain, but next to him, a guy with a machine gun.... so we went to the right - eventually winding up right at the foot of the stage. Next to us, were all the wheel chairs and people not able to sit in regular theater chairs. I looked back, and our group was seated way in the back - they looked so small, and here we were at the very front of the stage. Soon Pope John Paul came in, there were screen throughout the auditorium so everyone had a great view - and there were many talks and speeches.
After a couple hours - it all ended, and we started to wheel out of the building, however, when we reached the door, the same guy with a broken nose signaled us to the left, while the other wheel chairs were going right. Quite frankly, I started to wonder?
Dick pushed the wheel chair up a ramp and behold we were on the stage, and sitting directly in front of us, the Pope John Paul ll. There were eventually about 50 wheel chairs chosen from thousands of people, and we were one of them!
We waited our turn, and then I was wheeled right to the front of the Pope. I shook his hand and spoke in Polish to him We Love You Holy Fahter (in Polish: kochamy sie drogi Ojcze)- he smiled and gave us his blessings - my husband had tears of joy! All l could think was "Well Done Good and Faithful Servants" - it was truly a rare chance that this would happen. Meanwhile, our choir in the very back of the auditorium was cheering for joy.
Later, we went about two blocks from the Vatican to purchase some religious articles for back home. Dick got stuck with the empty wheelchair outside the religious bookstore/shop and decided to walk around the block pushing the wheelchair along. About two blocks from the bookshop, he noticed a large group of people standing in front of a store. He thought it was like a wedding shop since many of the people looking had wedding clothes on. Turns out, the store was a professional photographer who had taken the pictures of the people meeting the Pope - and there was Dick and me in the proofs! Obviously, he ordered the photos.
Once we got out of the auditorium - not only was our group of about 50 people waiting and cheering us as we came out the door - but several other people, everyone wanted to touch my hand. I don't think I washed my hands for two days.
Also, when approaching and actually meeting the Holy Father - you could just feel the Holy Spirit in the man, your emotions were so high, you had that feeling of not knowing whether your tears were joy or sorrow - this was just an overwhelming feeling.
This meeting really set our choir up - we were pumped!
There was no choir in the world that could possibly sing better than us... well, at least that's the way it felt. In fact, we did a very good job especially when the Vatican choir master pull out the Latin songs and thought that would stop us - as he had four backup singers to cover the bases. It didn't stop us however since most of the members of my choir were women and men who had been trained in the Catholic Church prior to Vatican ll. We 'nailed' the lyrics just like it was yesterday and the Vatican director smiled and was so happy.
All in all - it was an experience of a lifetime and you can imagine how I felt when I returned to Pope John Paul's hometown (Krakow) and walked through his house - the church - his favorite "creme" bakery - etc. and I thought about our meeting than it was so much more meaningful!