Meeting the Pope
by WRAL-TV Reporter Scott Mason
The little boy was a noisy pest in such a holy place. He wore white sneakers, the kind with little red lights that lit up when he walked. He couldn’t keep still; the lights kept blinking, and we watched him with an icy stare. Why on earth would his parents bring him here? This was, after all, a day we would remember the rest of our lives. We were about to meet the Pope.
There were 27 of us huddled in the cool air outside an enormous door in the shadow of St. Peter’s Square. It was six o’clock in the morning. We stood alone with our thoughts, contemplating the enormity of the occasion, rudely interrupted by the bratty kid who chattered and squirmed and blinked his sneakers and who so obviously did not belong there.
At last the door opened, and a slender man in a suit led us into the Vatican, down long corridors with high-domed ceilings and finally into the Pope’s private chapel. And there he was, draped in white, kneeling on a velvet pad in the center of the floor. How awed we were to be in the presence of the Holy Father.
The Mass began with the Pope praying aloud in Italian. He squinted as he prayed, as though straining to hear the Lord. And he was never distracted, not even by the boy who kept raking his stool against the marble floor. The boy even snatched the stool from the priest standing in front of him. We watched, horrified. Had the priest sat down, he would have fallen on his rear end—in front of his Holiness! The boy’s father quickly put the stool back.
It should have been a deeply meaningful ceremony. But our thoughts were on the kid. How dare he ruin it for us!
The Mass ended, and we quietly filed out of the chapel leaving the Pope the way we had found him, kneeling alone, talking silently to God.
The man in the suit took us to a large room. We stood in a receiving line, ready to accept the blessing of the Pope himself. At last the Pope hobbled in, looking weak and frail and badly hunched, with a priest on each arm. I stood toward the front of the line, wrestling with what I would say as he approached. “Your Holiness,” I mumbled. He did not look up, simply slipped a small pouch of rosary beads into my hand and moved on. Twenty-seven people is a long line for an aging man.
Several people kneeled and kissed his ring, and I was moved—until I spotted the blinking lights. The boy was swinging his arms and jumping out of line, and his parents were ignoring him, not wanting to break the line themselves—and likely praying he would stop. We were all praying. I could barely stand to watch.
The Pope was turning to him now. And for the first time, the boy stood completely still; the lights did not blink. He stared up at the old man, and the Pope placed his hands on the boy’s head. They stood that way, frozen in their own private moment. And once again I was drawn to the face of the Holy Father, straining as though speaking to the Lord. His lips were moving, whispering a prayer, and when he was done, he bent and kissed the boy’s head. The boy remained still. But not his mother; his mother stood beside him, and I watched her hand cover her mouth and tears pour from her eyes. Her face crumbled, yes, crumbled into tears of love and gratitude.
I think of that boy now in light of the Pope’s death. And I still feel that sliver of shame, how I could have strangled that kid; no, not literally but close. And then how I could have kissed him. But of course, the Pope did that. And in that simple gesture, demonstrated an innocence that seems lost among the masses.
We go about our lives bent on impressing our peers. And meeting the Pope is certain to impress. And that bratty boy and his inconsiderate parents make for a good story. But the real story, as it should be, is love. Unconditional. Kind. Innocent. Crystallized in a single moment. Symbolized by an aging man in a white robe. And a little boy with blinking sneakers.