Witnesses to unsung miracles bringing prayers, thanks to new pope-saints

VATICAN CITY — Two witnesses to some unsung miracles will be in Rome tomorrow for the canonizations of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II.

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Frances Mercado shows a rosary with an image of Blessed John Paul II. She saw the pope when he visited Denver in 1993 and Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1987. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

Pamela Pechanec from Topeka, Kansas, and Frances Mercado from Oceanside, California, have come to St. Peter’s Square to offer their thanks for the miracles they’ve experienced, they said, through the intercession of the two new (almost) saints.

I spoke to Pamela by phone as her bus from Rome’s airport was bringing a group of 88 people from Pittsburgh into Rome.

Her son, Jeremy, and his best friend, Jory Aebly, were shot in the head execution-style during a presumed robbery on the streets of Cleveland, Ohio, in 2009.

Jeremy didn’t make it and the doctors said Jory had no chance of survival as the bullet “had ricocheted three times inside his skull,” said Pamela.

As doctors put their medical skill and technology to work, the hospital chaplain administered potent spiritual power. Father Arthur Snedeker, a Cleveland diocesan priest, had been given a dozen rosaries blessed by Pope John Paul II before his death.

According to Pamela, the pope had told the priest that the rosaries were to be given to patients who were in terminal condition from gunshot wounds since he, too, had been shot and survived.

The priest gave Jory the last rosary he had of the 12 and prayed to John Paul. Jory not only survived, Pamela said he was able to walk and talk just weeks after the attack.

“I believe in divine intervention. I saw both boys in the hospital and I’m a nurse. I don’t know how Jory survived,” she told me.

Pamela said she had to come to Rome. “I met John Paul at World Youth Day in Denver at Cherry Creek” state park in 1993.

“I got close enough that he said, ‘Hello,'” she said. There was something about the way he looked at her “that I’ll never forget. He had that aura, you could see it.”

“You could feel something so strong when he spoke, that frail man and then that voice that came out,” she recalled.

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Silvia Gomez-Palacio from Our Lady of Loreto parish in Los Angeles; Frances Mercado from Oceanside; and Leslie Berenger from St. Charles Borromeo church in Valley Village. They were part of a pilgrimage of 52 people from the Los Angeles area. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

Frances Mercado had many stories to tell me about the miracles she witnessed with the people in her life. She attributes the survival of her premature great-grandson to the medals and prayer cards of Blessed John XXIII they kept in the baby’s incubator.

At just 21 weeks gestation, little Christopher weighed less than a pound, was 9 inches long and had a hole in his heart. Doctors said if he survived, he’d be blind. Not only is he a healthy 14 pounds at 11 months, he’s not blind and the hole in his heart “didn’t get bigger,” Frances said.

Another miracle she attributes to “the Good Pope” is in 1969 when her husband’s employer feel into a coma and was dying. The employer didn’t believe in God, but she had climbed the stairs to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil just six months before and bought a rosary for Frances because she knew how much Frances was devoted to her faith.

As the woman lay dying, Frances placed the rosary on her chest and prayed to Pope John “to just let her wake up long enough to say goodbye” to her husband and the woman’s sons at her bedside.

Almost immediately she sat up and asked for her children and Frances’ husband, who was like a member of the family, Frances said. The woman lived for four more days.

Sadly, Frances’ daughter unexpectedly died just a few weeks ago on Palm Sunday. Despite her grief, Frances said she still came to Rome “because my daughter would have wanted me to come. The trip was a present from all of my five children.”

When her daughter was dying, two siblings told the mother they could feel their deceased father in the hospital room. “I was praying, but I couldn’t feel it. The kids felt it.”

Then a priest came in the room to administer the last rites — a Father Arthur — the same first name as Frances’ late husband and the kids’ father. It was another sign, she said: “It was as if their daddy was there to pick up his daughter” and take her with him to heaven.

“So I’m here in Rome to thank both popes, for keeping Christopher alive and healthy for us.”

“I know my daughter’s at peace. She was so excited about this trip. I couldn’t let her down. Now I’m at peace, too.”

Footloose: Getting to Rome the old-fashioned way

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Francesco Locatelli walked to Rome from Sotto Il Monte — his hometown and the birthplace of Blessed John XXIII. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

VATICAN CITY — Sporting blisters and a pair of split sneakers, Francesco Locatelli finally made it to Rome on foot from his northern Italian hometown of Sotto Il Monte — the birthplace of Blessed John XXIII.

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Locatelli’s backpack says “Sotto Il Monte (Bergamo) Rome by foot.” He left home March 29 and arrived after 27 days of walking. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

The journey took him 27 days and he says it was worth every painful step to make it to tomorrow’s canonizations of Blessed John and John Paul II.

“Such an important event… I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” he told me this afternoon in St. Peter’s Square.

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Locatelli went through two pairs of shoes on his pilgrimage from northern Italy. (CNS photo/Carol Glatz)

“I went through two pairs of shoes, my legs are dying, I’ve got blisters from going up and down the mountains,” he said leaning on his walking stick. But “dedicating one month of my life is nothing compared to what these two popes have done.”

Doing a pilgrimage is also a life-changing event, he said. “I feel different. It breaks you out of your usual routine and changes you — when you make such a huge effort and see others exerting themselves, too.”

Locatelli said Pope John always felt like part of the family. “He comes from the same place I come from. I’m a farmer, too, (like the pope’s father was) and we grew up on top of the same land.”

He braved the wet and cold Italian springtime as he made his way from his home and along the famous pilgrim path, the Francigena Way. He carried an official “pilgrim’s passport” that he got stamped along the route.

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Staying at parish shelters and hostels, he met several other pilgrims coming to Rome as well, including two women and a man who spent three months walking from Poland. “We met in Viterbo and came to Rome together; now I lost track of them,” he said, looking over the huge crowds streaming into the square.

I asked if he planned on walking back home. “No, no! Taking the train. My wife hasn’t seen me in a month!”

 

 

Of pilgrims and roses

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VATICAN CITY — CNS’s senior Vatican photographer Paul Haring is hanging out in St. Peter’s Square.

He came upon Polish-American pilgrims from Chicago, and workers from Italy’s Puglia region who are helping arrange the flowers for tomorrow’s Mass. But the flowers aren’t from Italy. All 30,000 roses were shipped from Ecuador where the Ministry of Foreign Commerce rallied 20 farms and flower companies to make a splash of color in celebration of the canonizations of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II.

Canonizations: Archbishop, chaplain and pilgrim

ROME — Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore is one of many U.S. bishops in Rome this weekend for the canonizations of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II.

I asked him today what the two new saints teach him as a priest and bishop.

“John XXIII, who became the Holy Father when I was just a child, struck me even then as a man of great humility and joy,” he said. “And in spite of all the tremendous things he did in his life as a priest and bishop, he remained simple, close to God, a pilgrim, joyful.”

Although he was only 11 when Blessed John opened the Second Vatican Council, the archbishop said early on he understood that the pope “wanted to make the church’s teaching and spirituality accessible to ordinary Catholics.”

He also said Blessed John “had a lot to do with my openness to becoming a priest.”

(CNS/Paul Haring)

(CNS/Paul Haring)

Ordained in 1977, the year before Blessed John Paul was elected, and named an auxiliary bishop in 1995 by Pope John Paul, the archbishop’s contact with him was much more “up close and personal.”

The big lesson he learned from Pope John Paul is one word, “prayer.”

“Everything he said and did and taught passed through his life of contemplative prayer — some would even say mystical prayer,” the archbishop said. His teaching about the family, about the sacredness of human life, about the authentic interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, about the need for a “new evangelization” — “all of that passed through the prism of his prayer,” the archbishop said.

“That is why young people trusted him: they understood that not only was he fatherly and strong and smart and able to speak their language, but they trusted him because they understood instinctively he was holy,” Archbishop Lori said. “So what I take from him is there are no shortcuts; if I want to be halfway decent as a priest or a bishop, I have to pray, I have to run what I am going to do and what I am going to say through the prism of my prayer.”

I also asked the archbishop what he hoped his faithful in the Archdiocese of Baltimore would take from the canonizations.

“One reason I am so happy Pope Francis decided to canonize John XXIII is that I want the people I serve to know about him and I, myself, want to be reminded of him. I want them to know who it was who called the Second Vatican Council, who it was as apostolic nuncio who rescued so many Jewish refugees, I want myself and the people I serve to know someone who was from humble origins who rose to such great heights of holiness.”

“With John Paul II, he is very much in the living memory of most of the people I serve, but this is a chance to know him more profoundly. Perhaps people remember him as a sort of rock star — and he did have an impeccable sense of timing and he certainly was a person who knew how to communicate in so many languages. But I also want everyone to know him as a man of deep prayer, deep holiness, I would want them to hear his call — repeated throughout his 27-year papacy — ‘Be not afraid.’”

The archbishop said he came to Rome as William Lori, as the archbishop of Baltimore and as the supreme chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.

He’s spent time with the Baltimore pilgrims who came to Rome for the canonization and with the Knights who traveled to the city for the celebration. But, he said, “I come as one whose life and ministry was deeply touched by Pope John Paul II. He became pope one year after I was ordained and I didn’t know much about him, but I experienced very much his fatherhood as a young priest. I would have come for reasons of personal devotion,” even if he wasn’t an archbishop and Knights’ chaplain.

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