Have you ever thought about or experienced encountering someone who would later become a saint?
This is the story of a woman encountering the pope, who later became a saint. Ever since the meeting, she has not only had a spiritual connection with the pope and wrote a letter on her birthday, but it has also brought a life-changing moment to her journey.
"Meeting the Pope makes you want to cry," Anna Marco, a real estate consultant, told Rappler of her unforgettable encounter with Pope John Paul II in 1995, who eventually became a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.
Anna was a 25-year-old delegate to an International Youth Forum presided over by the University of Santo Tomas prior to this historic event.
She had the honor of representing the youth of Opus Dei, a Catholic organization formed in Spain in 1928, as one of the few Filipino delegates.
Pope John Paul II opted to hold World Youth Day in the Philippines in 1995. An International Youth Forum concluding mass was held in UST a day before the formal start of World Youth Day.
Despite his ill health and the heat, all 233 delegates had the opportunity to meet the Pope at this time. According to Anna, "his face was already red from the heat."
"We were told to say something to make him happy,” Marco relates. Therefore, upon her opportunity to encounter the Pope, she expressed her profound joy over his good health to him, saying, "Holy Father, I’m very happy that you’re healthy.”
“He would look into your eyes and really listen." Marco further exclaimed, "He smelled like baby powder," in response to a question regarding the Pope's fragrance.
She was a representative of Opus Dei, but Monsignor Renato Boccardo also chose her to be the head of the Youth Section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. She was also tasked with giving a speech during the vigil mass on the last night of World Youth Day in front of Pope John Paul II.
This makes them meet twice in a row, such a rare serendipitous moment for Anna. It was later revealed that the Monsignor noticed how helpful and friendly Anna was to all the delegates, making her the perfect pick for this momentous event.
Despite her trepidation, Anna embraced the honor conferred upon her. With little time to prepare a speech, Msgr. Borracado and her spiritual director suggested she speak on how "Christ is a part of your everyday life."
On January 14, 1995, the Quirino Grandstand was full of people from different backgrounds. The space for Anna and the other delegates was taken. The Vatican's organizers let the delegations sit on the Pope's podium.
Given their proximity to the Pope, Marco said, "They asked us if we would be ready to take a bullet for the Pope." This didn't bother the delegates because Pope John Paul II appreciated the company on the platform, thus it would become a routine procedure in subsequent reunions.
“I realized that I couldn’t just let a day pass as an ordinary day. I had to learn to offer up all my activities to the Lord; and to struggle to find out and do His will for me at that moment,” Anna said in her speech.
Further, she added “I had to live an ordinary day, where I am in the heart of society, extraordinarily well. Knowing that God is everywhere and everything that he gave us the commandment, to love him with all our being. And that as he has sent his son, Jesus, he has sent me too.”
Pope John Paul II called Anna to come to him after she delivered her speech. Her spiritual director also kept on telling her, “Don’t cry, don’t cry. As she reached the Pope, he hugged her close to his chest and said, “That was a very good speech; you even sound American.” Marco replied, "No, Holy Father, I’m a Filipina and a member of Opus Dei.” Followed by, “Holy Father, please bless my family and friends.” The Pope recognized her wish and said, “I pray for them now.”
Since then, Marco has written the Pope a letter on his birthday and prayed for him up until this day. Nonetheless, Anna still has many questions left unanswered, such as: “I want to know how we should feel about beggars. Are we not encouraging begging if we give alms?”.
Despite being wiser, she is still being challenged to put Christ at the center of her life. Marco added that her experience of World Youth Day and Pope John Paul II’s life is an incessant reminder of living out the Word of God through listening to other people and living an ordinary day extraordinarily.
Everybody experiences a life-changing event. These events can change our lives. The magic that came with this lasts eternally in our hearts, Marco said, adding that "remarkable memories remain vivid and illuminate our pathways, providing guidance, motivation, and a feeling of purpose forever."
These moments, regardless of how monumental or subtle, serve as the compass by which we navigate our existence, immersing it with significance and a profound relationship to our own unique journey, she concluded.
Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.” Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.