CRAIGMONT, Idaho — Emma Watson has nurtured the dream of meeting the Pope since she was 3.
On Sept. 9, the dream for the 7 1/2-year-old from Idaho who has been bravely battling a heart condition became a reality.
And coming face to face with the Successor of Peter, the normally quite talkative young lady was “speechless for the first time in her life,” according to her adoptive mother, Patti.
“I can’t believe that I didn’t know what to say,” said Emma afterward.
She said that when she looked into the Pope’s eyes she saw “happiness.”
The event took place following Pope Benedict XVI’s general audience and was the culmination of years of hopes.
Nearly aborted, Emma was born with mosaic Turner syndrome and hypoplastic left heart syndrome and has undergone five open-heart surgeries for palliation of her congenital heart condition.
A trip scheduled for February had to be canceled because Emma had intestinal bleeding and had to be hospitalized.
The journey was made possible by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. After making her wish known, the foundation questioned the request.
“They were questioning whether this little girl could really be asking for this,” said Father Thomas Connolly, pastor of the Watson family’s then-parish, Holy Family, in Clarkston, Wash. “That was because they didn’t know Emma.”
“They didn’t really believe that it was my wish,” said Emma.
In response, Emma’s parents, John and Patti, her primary cardiologist, three of her nurses, and Father Connolly wrote letters to the Make-A-Wish Foundation citing examples of Emma’s faithfulness and stating that it was indeed her wish.
“The depth of her devotion to religion is quite surprising, but is in fact coming from her heart,” wrote Dr. Hrair Garabedian, with the Northwest Center for Congenital Heart Disease. “I have spent many hours talking to her during her clinic visits and hospital stays, and she speaks of religion and prayer often.”
That’s verified by Father Connolly, who witnessed Emma, at about the age of 5, at a Good Friday service, not long after she had had one of her heart surgeries.
“During the veneration of the cross, her dad carried her up, but she wanted to get down,” said Father Connolly. “The cross is quite large, and two servers held it steady for people to venerate. When Emma came up, she tried on several occasions to kneel or crawl to venerate the cross, but her incisions didn’t make it easy for her to lean in, so she stopped.
“Eventually, she stood up, fell forward with her arms outstretched, grabbed the cross and placed a heartfelt kiss on the cross. Many people were crying because it was so emotional.”
Nurse Beth Dullanty wrote of Emma’s silent suffering during her hospital stays.
“I could see she was ‘offering it up,’ wrote Dullanty, the cardiac care coordinator at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane, Wash.
Eventually, Make-A-Wish was convinced of the authenticity of Emma’s request and scheduled the trip.
A Near Miss
The second time around, Emma almost missed seeing the Pope again. Only three weeks before the trip, she was again hospitalized, this time with pancreatitis.
“I told Make-A-Wish to schedule the trip,” said Patti. “If it was supposed to happen, God would take care of it.”
And he did.
Emma and her parents, along with her older sister, Ellie, flew to Rome Sept. 7. Emma said she was too excited to sleep on the plane.
On the morning of the general audience, Sept. 9, the Watson family almost missed meeting the Pope because they couldn’t find the Make-A-Wish volunteers in the plaza. By the time they met, the Watsons had to be rushed in and seated for the general audience just minutes before it began.
Emma and her mother were given front-row seats. John and Ellie had to sit in the balcony.
“Mom was looking the other way when the Pope came out,” said Emma. “I was in awe, and I started crying.”
After the audience, Emma and her mother were brought to greet the Pope. The Holy Father blessed Emma and put his hands on her shoulders.
“He asked us where we were from,” said Patti. “I said the U.S., and then we were ushered aside.”
In the days following, the Watsons were treated by some seminarians of the Legion of Christ to a personalized tour of St. Peter’s, including seeing St. Peter’s bones and Pope John Paul II’s tomb, the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and several other churches in Rome. Emma also saw the tomb of Pope John XXIII.
“I didn’t expect that he would be behind glass,” Emma said. “I liked that. It was kind of creepy and kind of cool.”
“It was all fun,” said Emma, “but there was nothing better than meeting the Pope.”
Tim Drake is based in
St. Joseph, Minnesota.
For more of Emma’s story, see Tim Drake’s previous article “Emma, the Pope and the President” at NCRegister.com.