By Jo Ann Kelly, Mercy Associate
My friend and I were in the Paul VI Audience Hall with 200 disabled persons who were gathered to meet Pope Francis, although my friend and I did not know that at the time. Everyone in a wheelchair was allowed one person to accompany them. We thought that we would be outside in the blazing summer sun and heat and were surprised to be directed inside by the Swiss Guard.
After the excitement of being taken to a spot facing the stage, we imagined that we would be able to see and listen to him during the Wednesday morning Papal Audience outside in St. Peter’s Square. There was a large screen television inside the hall where we were we could watch, since we would miss seeing him in his popemobile!
However, after a short time, Pope Francis himself walked onstage with Fr. Georg Ganswein, his secretary, and several security people. He greeted us, prayed one Hail Mary with all of us, and then descended the steps from the stage to the area where we were sitting. The first two rows were filled with adults and children, including many with ALS and respirators. They were the very disabled and were placed in the front. At that point, we really did not dare to imagine that Pope Francis might greet everyone, including my friend and me, who were sitting further back in the sixth of eight rows. However, he met with everyone in the disabled area, stopping to greet or talk with or bless each person individually.
It was a very emotional time for everyone in the hall. Both men and women shed tears as they watched Francis move around the room. He asked my friend to pray for him. I do not remember what he said to me, but I will always remember that he took my hand in both of his as I thanked him, using very few words and speaking slowly, for all that he has done for the poor. He then put his hand on my head and blessed me. Before he moved to my friend, I mentioned to him that we were from St. Ignatius Church in Sacramento, California. His face lit up with a big smile and a knowing glance. Fr. Georg then gave my friend and me each a rosary, and the papal photographer took pictures of each of us with Francis.
Afterward, we were speechless and remained in the hall to watch his audience in St. Peter’s Square. Pope Francis passes by and greets all of the disabled in this way each Wednesday before the audience in the square. He looks exactly as we see him on television or in photographs. When he is with you, he makes you feel as if you are the only person in the room with him. It is a meeting that I will always remember and treasure.