They were Christians living in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley. And they knew that Ellen, a middle-aged American woman who’d been in their midst for several months as a volunteer, and who was now about to return to the United States, was planning to visit Vatican City before doing so. After all, Ellen had told them that she wanted to see Pope John Paul II. What they didn’t seem to grasp, however, was that Ellen was intending to join thousands of others from around the world in St. Peter’s Square where they'd see the Pontiff wave from his balcony and bless them.
As they say, sometimes something is lost in the translation.
The day before Ellen was to depart, these local people came to say their good-byes. But before they turned to walk back into the lives they’d known, and Ellen departed to embrace again her old life, a spokesperson for the group stepped forward and handed her a homemade card signed by everyone who was present. With tears in her eyes, she thanked them warmly. But then, instead of turning and leaving, the spokesperson handed her another card yet. “Give Pope when see him,” the man said.
Ellen struggled not to laugh. She struggled to once again explain her situation and said, “No, no, you don’t understand. I will not be meeting with the Pope alone. I will only be seeing him from afar—as part of a crowd of many people.”
The spokesperson persisted. “We know you get card to Pope.”
Ellen made a quick scan of the faces before her. She immediately sensed that these people believed she’d somehow find a way to place their card in the Pontiff’s hands. So, rather than arguing any further, she slipped their simple gift into the black leather backpack she’d not only used daily in Nepal, but she’d likely be wearing throughout her travels in and around Rome.
Days later, Ellen entered the large piazza immediately in front of St. Peter’s Basilica which is better known as St Peter’s Square. She positioned herself hear the Vatican obelisk—essentially the same structure which Ellen knew had once stood at the Circus of Nero. However, she reminded herself that whereas once it had been part of a dark time and place—a time and place where Christians were thrown to the lions—it had become a part of something positive because of the vision of the sculptor and architect, Bernini. Indeed, his vision, made manifest, had helped many people like herself, standing there and awaiting the Pope’s arrival, to feel as if they were being embraced by the maternal arms of Mother Church.
Ellen scanned as well as listened to the growing crowd. For the most part, they chatted in Italian, But she was aware of other languages being spoken, too. She was somewhat disappointed, though, that she seemed to be the only English-speaking person in her immediate vicinity. Well, at least that seemed to be the case until she twisted her body to adjust the backpack which had shifted to an uncomfortable position. While readjusting it, Ellen inadvertently struck a middle-aged woman who was standing alone behind her. This woman was dressed in black slacks and a black jacket, just as so many Italian women typically wore. Nonetheless, Ellen found herself saying, “Excuse me for knocking into you.”
“No problem,” the woman replied. She smiled and asked, “Are you an American woman on vacation alone?”
“I am an American woman alone, “Ellen said. And then almost immediately, she found herself explaining, “I was doing volunteer work in Nepal the past few months alongside some of the most wonderful people you could ever hope to meet.”
“How generous of you to do this—and how wonderful that you came to embrace these people.”
Ellen felt her lips shifting into a large smile. “Oh, and because they were Christians, they were excited I was going to see the Pope. In fact, they made a card for me to give to him.” Ellen laughed, and then she waved her arms as if to embrace the massive number of people that were quickly filling St. Peter’s Square. “See, I couldn’t make them understand that I would be standing with many others viewing the Pope from afar.”
“Do you happen to have the card with you?” the stranger asked.
“Actually, I do,” Ellen replied. “See, they just seemed to have such a strong belief that I’d somehow see to it that it got into the Pope’s hands, that I haven’t had the heart to do anything but to carry it around with me.”
This time, it was the stranger who was smiling broadly. “May I see it?”
“Sure,” Ellen said, and shortly thereafter she was handing the handmade card to this stranger.
“This is very touching.” The woman nodded and continued on, “I think the Pope needs to receive this.”
Ellen sighed. “I agree, and so I’m heartsick that I’m not going to be able to do what these people asked of me."
The stranger’s smile further blossomed. “Well, you haven’t believed you could make this happen, but I would say God made those people believe because He knew He would make this happen.”
Ellen could feel this new sense of excitement rising within her. “What are you saying exactly?”
The woman stretched out her free hand. “I’m Sister Catherine, and I’m scheduled to have a private audience with Pope John Paul II tomorrow.” She shook Ellen’s hand, and she continued to hold it tightly as she added, “If you don’t mind, I’ll keep the card and deliver it on your behalf then.”
Ellen shook her head. “I can’t believe this.”
Sister Catherine released Ellen’s hand, and then she placed it on Ellen’s shoulder. “Now, tell me a little more about yourself and these people whom you apparently came to love—and who obviously loved and trusted you despite the fact your paths only crossed briefly. After all, I suspect the Pope might want to hear this beautiful story—as well as receive this touching card from some of Nepal’s small Christian population.”