National Catholic Register


America Meets Benedict

BY Robyn Lee and Tim Drake

April 27-May 3, 2008 Issue | Posted 4/22/08 at 2:22 PM


Pilgrims came from each of America’s 195 archdioceses and dioceses to meet Pope Benedict during his six-day visit to Washington, D.C. and New York City. Here, they share their thoughts of seeing the Pope up close.

Cyndi Smith from Steubenville, Ohio, had an amazing story to tell.

She’s here with her son, Paul, and her daughter, Mary Elizabeth. Both have a neuromuscular disease but weren’t part of the blessing of disabled children. In fact, they had no tickets — and no money — when they came.

“We just drove up from Ohio,” she said. “My mom gave me her credit card and said, ‘Here, put whatever you need on here.’”

Then, as they were getting ready to leave, the diocese called. They had an opportunity for Paul at one of the events, but no one else. Then one of Paul’s teachers called and said, “Get to the rally and God will do the rest.”

And that’s what she did. As she was walking through all the security stops, she got to a point where a secret service agent demanded: “Let me see your tickets.”

“Ma’am, we don’t have tickets,” said Cyndi. “Paul’s teacher said, ‘Get him here and God will provide.’”

The guard said, “Here you go,” and handed them four tickets.

Cyndi thanked the guard profusely. “Don’t thank me!” answered the guard.

Paul was taken to the rally, and Cyndi had to walk Mary Elizabeth to a handicapped bathroom. The Sister Servants of Mary, ministers to the sick, saw her there and asked if she was part of the blessing of disabled youth event.

“I wish I were, but I don’t have tickets,” she said. They said, “Come with me.”

They had gotten up to the front gate outside the seminary, when Cyndi got a call from her son, Paul. He was dehydrated. She had to leave her daughter with the sisters and get him. She returned just in time to see Pope Benedict come. The family was now all together, outside the chapel, positioned right in front of him.

Paul had put a request into the Make a Wish foundation that he wanted to serve Mass for the Pope in Rome. He hasn’t done that, but Cyndi said her favorite thing was when the Pope “Gave a blessing out the window,” looking directly at them. “You don’t put that into words.”

Nadine Macone and Marco Desiderio of Boston got to see the Pope at Yankee Stadium.

A member of the Emmanuel Community, Desiderio was a missionary in Rome during Pope Benedict’s first year as Pope. During that year, Desiderio and other members of the Emmanuel Community participated in many of Pope Benedict’s “firsts” — his first Christmas Eve Mass as Pope, his first Easter Mass, his first Pentecost Mass.

It was only natural that Desiderio attend Mass during the Holy Father’s first American trip.

He and his girlfriend Nadine attended Mass at Yankee Stadium.

“I remembered the feeling and grace of being with all the world gathered in one place and decided I must be here,” said Marco. “You don’t know all these people, but they are your brothers and sisters. I am so grateful and proud of Pope Benedict’s witness and example. He comes in the name of peace and the name of Christ.”

Lucia Mastbeth from Moonachie, N.J., met the Pope with her daughter, Amelia, who has cerebral palsy.

When Pope Benedict came to Dunwoodie Seminary chapel to meet with disabled children, she said he was all business — at first. She got the impression that he was late. His limo came, and he went straight up the stairs to the chapel.

She said the children were well behaved as they waited. I wondered about that, because the children had to wait a long time before the Pope came.

Lucia told me that when the Pope came in, “it felt like there was no air in the room,” it was so exciting. The choir sang. He blessed each and every child. They gave him a gift — a drawing. But then Pope Benedict suddenly left.

“He left and came back because he forgot to do his speech,” said Lucia. “That was cute. We thought he wasn’t going to talk to us!”

Lucia told me: “I appreciate what he did, because my daughter will never go to Rome, and my daughter got a special blessing.”

Michael Wolfbauer, a seminarian from the Diocese of St. Cloud, is studying theology at St. Paul’s Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.

He was one of a dozen seminarians and one seminary professor who headed for New York after their classes on April 18. They took part in the Youth Rally for Youth and Seminarians at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, and also participated in the Mass at Yankee Stadium.

“The Pope’s message for the youth was very inspirational,” he said. “It’s a challenge to live in the world today, but it’s important to recognize the freedom we have and recognize the message of Jesus is the message of hope.”

Father Gabriel Bakkar, Franciscan Friar of Renewal, attended the Mass for priests and religious at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and distributed holy Communion to approximately 100 of the faithful at the Mass at Yankee Stadium.

He was ordained last year and said that being in the presence of the Holy Father and so many others bolstered his vocation to the priesthood.

“It was great to see all the different religious communities and priests,” he said. “Seeing the older and the younger ones concelebrating together shows the breadth of the priesthood and the unity of the spirit. It shows a devotion that’s not always prevalent in the Church and sets the right foundation for my own vocation.”

— Robyn Lee and Tim Drake