The Ronald McDonald House in Manhattan is a home away from home for kids who are receiving cancer treatments in New York.
Last year, several of the residents had the good fortune to meet Pope Benedict XVI when he visited New York.
One of them will be confirmed this evening in the Ronald McDonald House chapel. Andrea Saavedra, 13, is receiving treatment for apendamoma, a rare cancer that wraps itself around the spinal cord and could spread to the brain stem.
She has been through several surgeries, which have left her a quadriplegic, and she continues to receive chemotherapy to shrink the tumor.
But folks at the Ronald McDonald House know her as a fighter. She arrived three years ago as a “very determined, upbeat 9-year-old,” said Ronald McDonald House chaplain Cherilyn Frei, who has been helping Andrea prepare for confirmation. And she hasn’t lost any of her spunk.
Andrea likes to participate in arts and crafts, but must do so by observing, Frei said. And she loves to participate in the house’s Angels on a Leash program, where people bring in therapy dogs to cheer the kids up. But again, it’s largely by observation. “She loves to watch the dogs do tricks,” Frei said. “I place some of the smaller ones on her lap.”
In addition, she “has a great perspective on her faith and faith formation,” Frei said.
When she is confirmed by Msgr. Thomas Modugno, vicar of East Manhattan, she will take Isabel as her confirmation name, which, Andrea told me yesterday, is her grandmother’s name.
Present will be her mother and father, who are originally from Peru, as well as some aunts, uncles and cousins.
Andrea, who is from San Antonio, was one of 56 children with disabilities to receive a special blessing from the Pope in a service at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers last April.
“He went through [the chapel] and blessed the kids,” Andrea told me. “He stood directly in front of every kid.”
“She was very happy to meet him,” Frei said. “She understood the gravity of the meeting. She’s a very spiritual girl.”
Some of Andrea’s friends at the Ronald McDonald House also had a close encounter with Pope Benedict. Police officers at the 19th Precinct, which is on the Upper East Side where the McDonald House is located, offered to take some of the kids to the nearby Vatican U.N. observer’s residence, where the Pope was staying.
“They got us through security quickly,” spokesman Patrick Lenz said at the time. “He came out, walked one way, then the other, held some of our children and blessed them.”
“A couple of my friends went to see him on 72nd Street,” Andrea recalled yesterday. “They were very happy about it.”
Though the agency is nondenominational, it provides religious services, and St. Monica’s, the local parish, arranges for Mass in the home every Thursday. Because of the nature of the home, it’s always a healing Mass, Frei told me.
— John Burger