CCN Ottawa correspondent Deborah Gyapong meets Pope Francis at the Vatican May 8. Photo by L’Osservatore Romano

Great joy praying with Francis

  • May 24, 2015

VATICAN CITY - On May 8, I had the joyful privilege of meeting Pope Francis following one of his private Masses at his residence at Casa Santa Marta inside Vatican City.

When I booked the trip to Rome in late March to attend the Rome Life Forum, I was told it would be unlikely I could attend as the chapel is small and requests usually have to be submitted months in advance. But two weeks later, I was informed I was on the list to attend the Mass on “venerdi 8 maggio” with instructions to enter Vatican City before 6:45 a.m. at a gate to the left of the Colonnade of St. Peter’s Square.

Just before leaving for Rome, I paid a visit to my spiritual director, Fr. Francis Donnelly, a Companion of the Cross. He suggested I give Pope Francis the Prayer to the Holy Spirit he had composed inspired by Pope Francis and his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel. Donnelly had just returned from a mission trip to Ghana where they had printed up 20,000 prayer cards.

The day before going to the Holy Father’s Mass, I tried to spend as much time in prayer as I could, to be spiritually prepared for the meeting. On the day of the Mass, a friend drove me to the Sant’Uffizio gate where I gave my name to a Swiss Guard, the first of many checkpoints before I reached Casa Santa Marta, which is to the left of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

In the chapel, as I waited for the Mass to begin, about two dozen priests entered and sat in the front two rows. A short time later the Holy Father entered from the front of the room, through a door to the left. The Mass was in Italian, so I could only pick up a word or a phrase here and there. I distinctly remember him saying something about the wisdom promised by Jesus in the Holy Spirit. But the Pope’s delivery says more than his words — his spontaneity, his peace, his tenderness and spiritual life come across in the tone of his voice, his gestures. The presence of God filled the chapel.

After Holy Communion, distributed by two priests, we sat in silence. The Holy Father got up and walked over to a chair that was just over a metre away from mine. He sat down and prayed there silently in thanksgiving for several minutes. What a profound joy to pray side by side with Pope Francis!

After the priests had filed out, the 25 or so other Mass attendees lined up to greet the Holy Father. A man collected our purses and briefcases. Many people had objects to give the Pope; some had a stack of them. I felt a little nervous waiting in the line. It is, after all, an unusual event to meet the most important and beloved religious leader in the world.

Then it was my turn, and I’ll never forget his glance, how it seemed as if soft, penetrating rays of light came from his large, warm brown eyes and scanned me, but with such kindness and gentleness I felt immediately at ease.

I decided to speak English to him. I was afraid if I said anything in Italian he would reply in Italian and I wouldn’t know what he was saying. I gave him the prayer card and explained how my spiritual director had composed this prayer to the Holy Spirit based on Evangelii Gaudium. I told him we were committed to praying for unity, the kind of unity only the Holy Spirit can bring. Then I said, “I pray for you every day.”

“Thank you,” he said. “I need it.”

Later, when I looked up the translation of his homily that day, I discovered his theme had been the unity brought by the Holy Spirit.

“It’s the Spirit which creates change, which creates the momentum for going ahead, that creates new spaces, that creates that wisdom which Jesus promised: ‘It will teach you!’ ” Pope Francis said. “This moves things but is also what at the end creates the harmonious unity between everyone.”

The encounter encouraged me to pray for reconciliation and unity in Christ, both inside the Church among all Catholics, and among all Christians and people of good will, that we will all be united in Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

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