I've been thinking how to best describe my day in Rome last week but words totally fail me.
My brother - the Franciscan missionary in South Sudan - had applied for two tickets for the weekly meeting with the Pope in St Peter's square and we were both very excited about it.
We'd both been woken up in the middle of the night by that horrendous earthquake that devastated so many villages in central Italy... it was clearly felt in Rome too and let me tell you... it's not a good experience. Weirdly I didn't get scared on this occasion, but you never feel as powerless as when the earth shakes around you and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.
The Pope replaced his usual speech with a rosary for the victim and I found it very moving. So many people from so many different countries and races all praying together was a lot to take in for my rusty Catholic heart.
(don't let them rob you of your hope)
Such a popular guy. He spent more than an hour shaking hands and blessing people. He had a good chat with my brother too:
So that was 'Papa Francesco'.
Then because the stars aligned in a certain way, or divine providence, or because sometimes things simply happen for no apparent reason we were offered (OFFERED!!) the chance to meet Joseph Ratzinger aka 'Papa Benedetto XVI later on that day. Well, my brother was asked... I tagged along like a shell shocked groupie...
Stunned we wondered around Rome for hours...
And then the time came and we were escorted by the Vatican Police to the middle of the 'Giardini Vatican, normally close to the public... to be honest at this point we didn't really know what was going on... was it a case of mistaken identity? did they know who we really weren't? were we going to disappear and never see our family again? were we going to get hired for a secret mission? shouldn't we've been blindfolded? secret service and government cars and a Pope... and us?
But then, after a 20 minute wait near a grotto with the reproduction of the Lourdes Madonna during which my legs got butchered by vicious mosquitoes... we were told to walk around the corner and there he was; twenty yards from us a fragile, diminutive man dressed in white stood up and welcomed us with open arms. Stood up! for us! ahhh the refreshing humility...
My little brother was happy chatting away, I was dry mouthed and kind of speechless, so ridiculously overtaken by emotion that my mind was blank. So blank that it was the Pope that asked ME questions... about my kids and where I lived... instructed me to pray daily for my brother and his work... such a kind, gentle man with the most piercing eyes that went straight through you. Intimidating but for the 'good' in them.
We got back into the car (who even took us back to ours outside the Vatican), looking at each other laughing and pinching ourselves.
Did it really happen?