When Vatican guards finally told us to line up in order, our hearts soared. Pope Francis came to the newlywed section and began greeting each of the hundred or so newly married couples in attendance, personally handing each person a blessed rosary as a gift.
When our turn came, the pope extended his hand to shake mine as we walked up, and quite spontaneously, I leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. A wave of panic came over me as I immediately thought: I don’t think I was supposed to do that! But the pope was quite at ease, smiling warmly as he held my hands and looked me directly in the eyes. He then turned to Mark to carry on a 10-minute conversation with him in his native Spanish.
Mark and I were amazed that Pope Francis was completely present to us the entire time we spoke, as though we were the only other people with him on the planet, as though he had nothing else in the world to do but stand in the hot sun in one of the busiest public squares on earth and ask about our lives.
“He is a pope who has introduced us to a new style. He has abandoned the rituals, the courtly formalities … and so, somehow, he is very striking. No? Some boys and girls say: ‘He seems like one of our relatives.’ What do they mean by this? That there is a closeness, a proximity. I feel welcomed exactly as one of my family welcomes me,” Msgr. Dario Edoardo Viganò, Prefect of the Holy See’s Secretariat for Communications, said in an interview about his new book, Fidelity Is Change, about Pope Francis.
I can tell you firsthand that this is true. I kissed the pope, and it felt like I had kissed a beloved father. Moreover, the successor of St. Peter gazed into my eyes — looked into me, looked through me, looked at me with the penetrating eyes of Jesus Christ. I felt seen as I’ve rarely felt seen by another human being in my entire life, and I will never forget the experience. Surely it was that same look that drew people to Jesus.
“Please pray for me,” the pope said sincerely as he closed our conversation in broken English.
And I have, without fail, every day since. Just like I pray for my own father.
Judy Landrieu Klein is an author, theologian, inspirational speaker, widow and newlywed whose book, Miracle Man, was an Amazon Kindle best-seller in Catholicism. This article was originally published at her blog, “Holy Hope,” which can be found at MemorareMinistries.com.