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The Day I Kissed the Pope

Courtesy of Judy Landrieu Klein
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... and it felt like I had kissed a beloved father

We rose at the crack of dawn on a beautiful Rome morning to don our wedding attire and arrive early at St. Peter’s Square, just as we had been instructed. To our surprise and delight my husband, Mark, and I had been granted permission to have our marriage blessed by Pope Francis on the second attempt — after our first request for the sposi novelli blessing was turned down because we’d been “married too long.”

As the Vatican normally requires newlyweds to appear for the papal blessing within the first two months of marriage, an exception was made after we explained that Hurricane Isaac had swamped the interior of our Louisiana home with six inches of water, prompting the gutting of the house along with a yearlong delay in our honeymoon. That was only part of the crazy story of the miracle of our marriage and the crazy miracle of having it blessed by the pope.

Never married before, Mark had lived abroad as a Catholic missionary for 27 years, with 23 of those spent headquartered in a community in Rome. After 25 years of marriage I’d been widowed for two years and, frankly, expected to remain single for the rest of my life. All of that changed when our paths converged in my parish adoration chapel, to which providence had led Mark upon his recent return to America. We married a year and a half later and then traveled to Rome in 2013 for our first anniversary to tour Mark’s former stomping grounds and see the newly elected pope, the man who would soon become “the most popular leader in the world.”

Mark and I had no idea what to expect that day, as the sposi novelli blessing is somewhat shrouded in mystery, lending to the intrigue and excitement of the event. Virtually no information is given to participants about what will take place, other than the instructions to arrive at 7 a.m. to gain entrance to a special section of seating for the noon Wednesday audience. That, plus the advice to bring snacks and water for a long day of waiting.

We sat for five hours in front of St. Peter’s Basilica in what, by noontime, was piping hot sun. Trying our best to stay fresh (and not drip sweat on our wedding attire), we sipped water and dabbed Kleenex on our damp faces as we gleefully shared wedding stories with the other newlyweds around us.

At long last, Pope Francis appeared in the popemobile and rode through the large crowd assembled in St. Peter’s Square before taking his place on the stage directly in front of us. After delivering an address in Italian about the Church being our Mother, which Mark kindly translated into my ear, the pope gave a general blessing to the thousands of attendees before making his way through the crowd, shaking hands with hundreds of the faithful over the next hour. It was now 1:30 p.m. and we still weren’t sure if we were going to meet the pope.

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