Daniel Blackman is a freelance writer, photographer, and media consultant based in London, UK. He writes news, features, and interviews for print and online Catholic (and some non-Catholic) news outlets. He has a BA in theology and an MA specializing in systematic theology and ethics.
One lucky couple is now one step closer to putting Pope Francis’ advice to married couples into practice—by getting engaged at World Youth Day in Krakow.
Szymon Wadoń, 23, from the town of Bielsko-Biala, Poland, proposed to his girlfriend Jessica Pinheiro Bezerra, also 23, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on the steps of the Conversion of St. Paul Catholic Church in Krakow, after Mass on July 29.
Hundreds of pilgrims were taken by surprise when Szymon took Jessica by the hand and led her to the front of the group, before going down on one knee and producing a beautiful engagement ring.
They met at World Youth Day 2013 in Rio. Her parish was hosting Polish pilgrims.
“I thought she was a beautiful woman, and really wanted to get to know her better,” says Szymon to the National Catholic Register immediately after he proposed.
Jessica says she was flattered to be approached by Szymon. “We started off being friends, and I was happy he was Catholic like me,” she says.
The happy couple didn’t speak each other’s language, so used Spanish to get by. They spent a year and a half keeping in touch via email and Skype, which included praying the Divine Mercy chaplet together online, as well as the occasional visit by Szymon to see her in Brazil.
After a year, Jessica moved to Mexico to continue her studies, with Szymon making regular trips to spend time with her.
“We were visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Jessica’s birthday,” explains Szymon. “It was there that we decided to be boyfriend and girlfriend.
Jessica says they found spiritual strength in prayer, and the wise words of St Pio of Pietrelcina, who said that love is strengthened through suffering, as it was very hard for them being in love but so far away from each other.
They met again at World Youth Day in Krakow, and spent their time attending the Masses and catechesis with Juventutem International Federation, which they attend in their own countries. The group is dedicated to providing the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, together with a more traditional spirituality and social events.
“I’m quite a shy person, so proposing in front of so many people was nerve-racking,” said Szymon.
Happily, Jessica said yes, even though she says she was shocked and crying with emotion. “I was really happy and so surprised,” she said.
The crowd broke into rapturous applause, with the couple hugging and wiping away their tears. They joined the procession of bishops and altar servers back to the sacristy, where Bishop Athanasius Schneider, auxiliary bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan, blessed them and gave them some words of encouragement.
“He blessed us and told us to make our home a mini-church, and wished us many children,” said Jessica.
“And he told us not to be afraid,” added Szymon.
The couple haven’t set a date for the big day yet, but say it’s likely they’ll live together in Poland after the wedding.
Later that day, Pope Francis appeared at the window of the archbishopric of Krakow to speak with youth people, and had some useful advice for engaged and married couples.
“When I meet someone who is getting married … I say to them, ‘You are the ones who have courage!’ Because it is not easy to form a family, not easy to commit your life forever; it takes courage. And I am proud that you are courageous,” he told the crowd.
“Sometimes people ask me what to do so that our families can go on and overcome difficulties. I suggest to them to use three words, three words which express three attitudes … three words which can help you to live out your married life, because in married life there are difficulties. Marriage is something so beautiful and so wonderful that we have to look after it, because it is forever. And the three words are: ‘May I?,’ ‘Thank you,’ and ‘I’m sorry.’
“I invite you, before the blessing, to pray for all the families present here, for newlyweds, for those who have already been married for some time and know what I am saying to you, and for those who will get married,” he said.