Recently, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity of seeing Pope Francis in person during my vacation in Mexico. When my colleagues suggested I blog about my experience, I accepted for two reasons. Most people have probably seen news items about the Pope’s affection toward children, the elderly and people with disabilities. By this point, I am not surprised each time I see something in the news about those times when Pope Francis stops in the middle of his tracks to bless someone with a disability. I wanted to experience this for myself, even if he only saw and blessed me from a distance. Since this blog is about blindness and visual impairment, I also hope to describe what it is like to experience such a unique event as someone who is totally blind.
My parents and family are from Michoacan, a state in the western region of Mexico. Each year before the Ash Wednesday and Lent celebrations, Michoacan and many other states throughout Mexico have the Carnaval festivities. Simply put, Carnaval is the equivalent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and the celebrations consist of parades, a lot of food, music and having a good time for five days! I have always enjoyed the Carnaval, and try to go whenever possible. When my parents and I found out that Pope Francis would be visiting Mexicoimmediately following these festivities, we knew right then and there that this would be the perfect opportunity to at the very least get a glimpse of him.
Morelia is the capitol city of Michoacan, and Pope Francis would be there on Tuesday, February 16. Admittedly I am not a very religious person, but I have always respected and admired this and former popes for all they do for the church and world peace in general. Ever since I was a child, I have always wanted to see and get a blessing from the pope. To me, a blessing is more than a sign of good luck. My parents and grandparents always taught me that blessings are meant to bring protection from God in all aspects of life.
I suppose my parents and I were blessed even before our papal encounter, as we somehow managed to book hotel rooms at the very last minute! Pope Francis would be visiting the Morelia Cathedral, and the hotel was across the street from the church. So even though we would not be able to attend any of the masses or events, we would still get a chance to see him in the Popemobile. The pope was scheduled to be in that area at around 3 in the afternoon, but my parents and I decided to save our spot at 5 in the morning – we were determined to be as close to Pope Francis as possible!
We were not the only ones waiting outside at the crack of dawn, however. The sidewalks were already filled with pilgrims and other people who camped outside all night long. Street venders could also be seen and heard selling a variety of foods and souvenirs. As the day progressed, more and more people began lining up on the streets. Between chatting with some of our fellow hotel guests, buying souvenirs and posting a ton of pictures on Facebook, those 10 hours flew by before we knew it!
The excitement among the crowd grew as 3 p.m. got closer. All throughout the streets thousands of people erupted in cheers and with phrases like “viva el papa”, or “long live the pope!” We all stood up from our seats as soon as we heard the roaring of helicopter engines – we knew that meant that the Pope was near! While everyone else got their cameras ready to take pictures, I unfolded my cane. I figured that I could possibly get Pope Francis’s attention by waving it in the air when he was nearby. Maybe that way I could actually get him to bless us!
The cheers and chants became even louder when the Popemobile was in sight. “He’s about to come near us right now,” my mom and dad both exclaimed. Before I knew it, I raised my cane in the air and waved at Pope Francis. “Wow,” my mom said. “He gave you a blessing and saw us,” she continued with excitement in her voice. “Really?” I could not believe my ears! The emotions I experienced were beyond words. To say that I was excited and thrilled is an understatement.
My mom and I were hugging each other and we both burst into tears. This was something we wanted to experience for a long time, and it seemed surreal that it had finally happened. Although I couldn’t physically see Pope Francis, knowing that he had actually been near me and given us a blessing was more than enough. I certainly did not need my eyes to experience the happiness and peace I felt during those few seconds. My mom was able to capture a picture of that unforgettable moment, and thanks to that I have a souvenir to show others as proof of that wonderful day.
I consider myself extremely privileged on being part of history for many reasons. Pope Francis is the first Latin American Pope, and this was his first visit to Mexico. Over 90 percent of Mexicans are Catholic, so it was fitting that he paid a visit to this country. A pope had never visited Michoacan, so the fact that I had the opportunity of seeing him during my vacation was very special. Best of all, I experienced this surrounded by my family and loved ones. This made the experience even more meaningful, and is without a doubt a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life.