The gift of a lifetime

“The family is where we are formed as people. Every family is a brick in the building of society.” – Pope Francis

By Alison Thomas

As many of those in our com­munity, I grew up in a fam­ily that had a major focus on faith, love, and respect for one another. Throughout my life, my parents always reminded my siblings and me to lean on our faith and trust that God’s plan would be fulfilled in each of our lives if we cultivated and maintained a prayer life.

For as long as I can remember, we spent each night praying a ro­sary as a family, and never missed a Sunday mass. I am certain that my faith would not be as strong if I did not have this foundation that began when I was a young girl by the ex­ample of my parents and my siblings.

Part of being a Catholic, comes a love and devotion to the Holy Fa­ther of our Church, so you can imag­ine the shock I felt when I found out that I would have the opportunity to present the gifts during Holy Mass to Pope Francis for the Feast of St. Peter and Paul with my parents.

My initial reaction, though, was how in the world did we get chosen to do this? The short answer, pure luck.

And now for the more detailed answer: My mom initially planned a trip to Rome for the Cardinal Instal­lation Ceremony of 14 Bishops from all over the world, including our Pa­triarch, Mar Louis Sako, which took place on June 28. She also planned to attend Pope Francis’s mass cel­ebrating the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul which was the day after the Cardinal’s installation.

My mom has travelled to Rome to see the Pope on several occasions in the past and as an avid EWTN view­er, she always wondered how families got the chance to present the gifts to him during mass and began to inves­tigate how to do this.

She eventually realized there was a way to apply through the Vatican web­site and began the process. Friends of hers who live in Rome expressed that her chances of getting accepted to do this were very slim, as they have tried for the last 40 years while living there and have never been accepted.

Being the persistent woman that she is, she still tried—and several days before leaving for the Cardinal’s installation, she received a notifica­tion that her application was accept­ed. As many times as we read the no­tification, we were still in disbelief.

Despite our uncertainty, my fa­ther and I booked our flight to join my mom and continued to question whether it would actually happen or not. Upon arrival to Rome, we verified that the email was in fact an acceptance to present the gifts and were notified that we needed to attend a practice session the day before the mass in order to prepare. The few days that we spent in Rome felt like a whirlwind—what could be greater than participating in mass with the leader of our Church? And what an incredible moment that we would never forget.

This feeling of skepticism and amazement did not seem to go away until the moment we found our­selves standing before the Holy Fa­ther awaiting this incredible meet­ing. I remember whispering to my mom and dad as we were walking towards him, “Is this actually hap­pening?!” We were able to exchange a few words with him, and told him that we were Chaldean from Iraq, living in America— he thanked us and blessed us, and asked that we pray for him.

This experience is one that my par­ents and I will treasure for the rest of our lives, and I am so grateful to have experienced it with them—the people who formed me into the person I am today, and who instilled in me my faith and love for the Church.