Wednesday, October 12, 2022, began as a great vacation day in Rome with my family. We were planning to visit sites that day such as Saint Mary Major Basilica, Saint John Lateran Basilica and Saint Paul Outside the Walls Basilica. Then everything changed — I believe Saint Joseph arranged a mission for me to meet Pope Francis.
I woke early that morning and decided to take a walk before breakfast and hopefully find a Mass to attend. Leaving our vacation rental, only a few blocks from the Vatican, I walked toward Saint Peter's Square and noticed a large crowd gathering near the entrance. I asked someone what the occasion was and learned it was the day of the weekly Papal Audience. I very much wanted to attend but was told that a ticket could only be obtained online and usually months in advance. In my mind I thought, "Well, that's not going to happen today!"
I continued my walk nearer to the Vatican. Thousands of pilgrims were gathered, including many priests and religious. A priest standing alone caught my attention and I thought he might be able to direct me to a Mass. I approached and asked if he knew where I could find a nearby Mass. He smiled and said that he wasn't sure where but was confident I would find one. "After all, this is Rome!"
I introduced myself and said I was the father of a large family, a lay evangelist with the Pilgrims of St. Michael and that I have a weekly program on satellite TV called Hearts of the Holy Family. He told me that he was from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I became excited because I knew several bishops from the region who had attended our annual Study Session at the House of St. Michael in Rougemont, Canada. I named a few that he knew. I also explained that the Pilgrims of St. Michael work for a better tomorrow through the promotion of Economic Democracy and a greater understanding of Catholic Social Teaching to sanctify both the economy and the family.
My intention that morning had only been to enjoy a walk and I only had some images of Saint Joseph in my pocket. I like to distribute these images to anyone I meet — my calling card, as it were. On the back of the card is an ancient prayer to Saint Joseph. I gave one to the priest. He took the card, looked at me and said, "When you approached me, I had just gotten off the phone with my friend who works at the World Bank. He was supposed to meet me here today. We were planning on attending the Papal Audience together. He called to inform me that he had to cancel in order to immediately fly back to Washington, DC for an emergency meeting. I have his ticket here with me and God is telling me that I should give it to you!"
Totally surprised, I accepted the ticket. But then I thought about my wife, Anne Marie, who was expecting me for breakfast. I called and told her that a visiting priest from Congo had given me a ticket for the Papal Audience and asked her what I should do. She said, of course I should go and that we could meet later in the day. I joined the line at the gate and presented the ticket which I had been given. A priest in front of me saw my ticket and said, "You are in the wrong line. Your ticket will bring you very close to the front where the Pope will speak!" One of the Swiss Guards, seeing my ticket, escorted me to another gate and led me to the front, seating me in the second row which was occupied by bishops and cardinals.
Pope Francis soon arrived in his pope mobile. I was very excited, and was sending photos to my wife. I still couldn't believe that I was so close to Pope Francis. He spoke about discerning God's Will in our lives — it was very beautiful! When the audience ended, the bishops and cardinals began to form a line to meet the pope. Although I thought I should head out to find my family, an usher came to our row and motioned for us to join the line! I certainly was not expecting this! I felt unprepared, being dressed very casually in walking clothes. I felt in my pockets and found my Rosary and the Saint Joseph Prayer cards with the ancient prayer on the back. I snapped a quick selfie with Pope Francis in the background, sent it to my wife and excitedly said, "I'm going to greet the Pope!!!"
As I got closer, I started to pray to the Holy Spirit to enlighten me as to what I should say to the Holy Father. I took the image of Saint Joseph in my hands and read the miraculous and ancient prayer on the reverse side. As I stepped forward to greet the Holy Father, I handed him the image of Saint Joseph and simply said, "Holy Father, I am a friend of Saint Joseph." He looked at me, then looked intently at the image of Saint Joseph, smiled and said, "Please pray to Saint Joseph for me."
These words from the Holy Father penetrated me. It was as if God Himself was speaking to my heart, giving me a mission to pray to Saint Joseph for Pope Francis. But not only for Pope Francis, but for the papacy — for the entire Petrine Ministry. I had left our apartment that morning with the sole intention of enjoying a walk, praying my Rosary and looking for a Mass to attend as my family had a full agenda for the day. But Saint Joseph had another plan and he sent me to meet Pope Francis that morning. Pope Francis often says that "Our God is a God of surprises." St. Joseph certainly had a beautiful surprise for me that day.
It is to be noted that October 12, the day on which I had my special encounter with the Holy Father, is also the feast day of the new blessed, Carlo Acutis (see the article in MICHAEL Jan/Feb 2021). Young Carlo said on his deathbed: "I offer to the Lord, for the Pope and the Church, all the sufferings that I will have to endure, and also to go straight to Heaven without going through Purgatory."
Saint Joseph has a great role to play in the Church. Today, more than ever, the Church is in peril. The enemy is not only at the gate but there are also enemies, unfortunately, within the Church itself. Saint Joseph saved Our Lord Jesus from peril as a child when he protected him from the evil King Herod. He protected the Holy Family all those years from danger, and from idols in Egypt. God the Father chose Saint Joseph to protect the Holy Family, and for that he is called the Terror of Demons. Therefore, the Church naturally turns to him for protection.
Blessed Pope Pius IX proclaimed Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church on December 8, 1870. The Pope is the visible leader of the Holy Catholic Church on earth and therefore, we must call on St. Joseph to protect the Pope in his office as leader of the Church. Saint Joseph, as Patron of the Universal Church, is patron to us all, and that includes the Pope. God the Father chose Saint Joseph to protect the Church, and especially the Pope and the papacy. The Catholic Church is the Holy Bride of Christ, and Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against her. So let us join together in praying and spreading this special prayer to Saint Joseph for the Pope and for the Church. It is clear to me that God wills it.
Terror Of Demons,
Protect the Papacy!
O St. Joseph
whose protection is so great,
so strong, so prompt
before the Throne of God,
I place in you all my interests and desires.
O St. Joseph
do assist me by your powerful intercession
and obtain for me from your Divine Son
all spiritual blessings
through Jesus Christ, Our Lord;
so that having engaged here below
your Heavenly power
I may offer my Thanksgiving and Homage
to the most Loving of Fathers.
O St. Joseph,
I never weary contemplating you
and Jesus asleep in your arms.
I dare not approach
while He reposes near your heart.
Press him in my name
and kiss His fine Head for me,
and ask Him to return the Kiss
when I draw my dying breath.
St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls
pray for us. Amen.
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