By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Shrewsbury – When devout Catholics plan a trip to Italy, there is one place that is tops on their list of places to visit – the Vatican. If they are lucky, they might get tickets to be part of the huge crowd that gathers when the Holy Father, Pope Francis, makes his weekly appearance in St. Peter’s Square. But for one couple, Ann and Frank Masiello of Shrewsbury, a recent trip to Rome turned into so much more. Not only did the two receive tickets to the pope’s audience, they were given premium seating, allowing them a chance to speak to the pope in person and share a very special moment with him.
When they were planning their trip to Italy, the Masiellos had reached out to Bishop Robert McManus, the bishop for the Worcester Diocese, for assistance in obtaining tickets. In doing so, they shared a bit about their lives over the past few years. Both Masiellos are 71 and have had several health woes. And sadly, Ann’s son Daniel passed away several years ago at age 39, leaving his mother understandably grief-stricken.
“But I am a woman of faith,” Ann said. “It is what has gotten me through my life, especially the past few years.”
Bishop McManus, who was touched by their story, agreed to send a letter along with one from Ann to the Prefecture of the Papal Household to request tickets to the papal audience. The Masiellos were thrilled when they were told their request was approved.
Two days after arriving in Rome, they went to St. Peter’s Square for the audience May 9.
“We got our tickets and they were numbers 48 and 49,” Frank said. “But we were not sure where we were going to be sitting.”
As the Masiellos followed instructions on where to go, they were shocked to find out they were to be seated in the front row, with only a fence separating them from the stage where Pope Francis would be addressing the faithful.
Being able to see the Holy Father so close up was an amazing experience, they agreed, but then they got an even bigger surprise.
“He was walking along the row, talking to people,” Ann said. “And all of a sudden, he came right in front of us.”
“We were able to talk directly to him – it was only three minutes, but it felt like three hours,” Frank recalled. “It felt like it was just the three of us.”
Prior to traveling to Italy, Ann had created 20 tiny little medallions with her son’s name on one side and the words “love 2018” on the other. She had brought them with her to the papal audience and holding them in her hand, asked the pope to bless them, which he did.
She then held one out to him.
“He asked, ‘This is for me?’ and put it in the pocket of his robe,” she said. “I then reached over to hug him – I am a hugger – and he hugged me back.”
After their experience, Ann said she was emotionally drained yet also very much at peace.
“I just felt like everything would be OK, that I knew my son was safe and in good hands,” she said.
Frank was also very moved by meeting the pontiff as well.
“He is just such a people person, so warm and comforting,” he said. “You would never know he was the pope, he’s so humble.”
The Masiellos acknowledged that although they enjoyed the rest of their trip, meeting Pope Francis was definitely a highlight that couldn’t be topped.
“We still can’t believe it. It was the biggest and best part of our trip,” Frank said. “It was definitely an experience of a lifetime and we are still on Cloud Nine.”