All the excitement over the visit by Pope Francis this week is bringing back fun memories of a close encounter with another Pope for one local woman. She visited the Vatican nearly twenty years ago and wound up in a meeting with Pope John Paul II…by accident.
The memory brings smiles and a sense of disbelief. Alice Thomson-Cain says she was in Rome on vacation in 1997 headed out for sightseeing with a friend, “And we’re going to go to the Vatican…we get there and there aren’t many lines and we walk around and it said “Vatican closed to public.”…there was a line that’s going into what we thought was a ticket counter or whatever, so he said let’s go get in this line.”
So they did – and followed the group right into St. Peter’s Basilica. She says, “We sitting there and sitting there and I’m watching all these other people come in and it’s groups and everybody’s carrying a flag – someone to present their group and I’m thinking well this is a presentation at the Vatican – it must be a special group today and we were in it.”
She says no one around them spoke English – so they couldn’t find out what was going on…they had to wait, “After about an hour – he said okay – I’m finished and I said no – you’re not. We’re not leaving – I said, but I can tell you one thing – after waiting this long – the Pope had better come out himself and give the presentation.” A little while later…she says that’s exactly what happened, “Would you believe here comes the Pope’s clergymen and here comes Pope John Paul II. I said oh my God.”
She says by the time they’d been there nearly three hours – each of the groups in that meeting had been addressed in their own language…none in English….but Alice says she didn’t have to know what was going on to know what a special moment it was, “We’re sitting there and everyone’s looking around at us because we’re the only two speaking English – I said Hal – I said do you realize where we’re sitting – there are thousands of people around this world that would die – give their life to be sitting where we are? And this was totally by accident.”