June 9, 2017

‘Get to it,’ and ‘love one another as I love you’

Pope Francis blesses newlywed Katie Rutter and her husband Brian Rutter in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on May 3. (Photo courtesy L’Osservatore Romano)

Pope Francis blesses newlywed Katie Rutter and her husband Brian Rutter in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on May 3. (Photo courtesy L’Osservatore Romano)

By Katie Rutter (Special to The Criterion)

I was suddenly pressed against a waist‑high barricade as dozens of people surged toward me from behind. In front of me, a whole troupe of cameras turned their lenses right at my face. An instant later, the Holy Father stood before me. All the chaos faded into the background. He was looking straight into my eyes.

I had arrived in St. Peter’s Square early that morning, wearing the same white gown that I had worn as I walked down the aisle four days before. Swiss guards showed me and my new husband, Brian, to a seating area next to the iconic Basilica.

We were joined by nearly 80 other brides, adorned with enough tulle and glitter to rival a high school prom. The grooms at their sides sweated in ties and suit jackets beneath the Italian sun. We all shared one desire: to have the vicar of Christ bless our newly-formed marriages.

“When somebody blesses you, it’s like he wishes you all the best in your life,” said Emelea Szhdlowski, who had traveled from Poland with her husband Matthew. “He’s like Jesus, so for us it’s like a blessing from Jesus.”

St. John Paul II began the “Sposi Novelli” or “Newlyweds” blessing, and both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have continued it.

During every Wednesday general audience, where the Holy Father greets and teaches the pilgrims gathered at the Vatican, VIP seating is reserved for couples who were married within the last two months and who have requested this special blessing. When the pope finishes addressing the crowd, these brides and grooms, all decked in wedding attire, are given the opportunity to shake his hand and speak with him face to face.

“It’s just a wonderful opportunity to meet the pope,” said Seth Horton of Toledo, Ohio, who was received into the Church at Easter and married his wife Sarah a week later. “Consistent with his predecessor John Paul II, [Pope Francis] knows that the family is the core of our entire civilization, and blessing the marital union is absolutely paramount to having a society that fears and wants to serve God.”

This universal call to holiness was apparent. The couples surrounding us hailed from many countries, and greetings were spoken in a dozen languages.

“The pope is the head of the Church,” said Mateo Moya, who married his wife Paula Benavent in Alzira, Spain, on April 22. “It’s like feeling the whole presence of the Church supporting our marriage.”

The crowd of the faithful that filled St. Peter’s Square roared with excitement as the Holy Father appeared, standing atop his customary white popemobile. Many brides, disregarding their high heels and long trains, scrambled to stand on their chairs for a better look. Pope Francis reached the front of the square and took a seat about 100 feet away from the Sposi Novelli section. Security guards exhorted everyone to take their seats.

The pope gave a short reflection on a Gospel reading. Then all the newlyweds were escorted to a barricaded section where we were to stand and greet the Holy Father. Brian and I stationed ourselves near the end of the long line of newlyweds. I could hardly keep still with nerves and excitement.

Determined to use this opportunity as any good journalist would, I rehearsed my one question in my mind: “Holy Father, why do you love us?”

Finally arriving at the newlywed section, Pope Francis took his time greeting each couple and spending several long moments with them. As he worked his way closer and closer, I realized that I hardly recognized him. No photograph has ever captured the love and joy that radiates from his face.

The spouses next to us asked Pope Francis to sign a copy of one of his books on the same page where the publisher had printed his signature.

The Holy Father pointed at the copy of his autograph, “There’s one already there!” He laughed and added his own, authentic signature to the page.

Then he turned to me. I stammered, attempting to ask my question. I could feel the entire entourage of cameras pointed my way. Despite the chaos, his full attention was on me as if I were the only person in the world. That kind gaze calmed all my nerves and steadied my wandering focus.

I attempted to ask my question again, this time switching from English to his native Spanish. He placed one hand on my cheek. Then, with his thumb, he traced the cross on my forehead. Joy and peace filled my entire being.

“Get to it,” was his simple statement, a phrase that still bewilders me. Perhaps he was referring to my inability to speak without stammering or, as suggested by his grin, urging us on in our vocation. He shook my husband’s hand with a huge smile and continued down the line of newlyweds.

I left St. Peter’s Square without an explicit answer to my question, “Why do you love us?”

I, however, had received knowledge of even greater importance. Our Holy Father does love us, and loves us more deeply than any father has ever loved a child. If he could, he would look each one of us in the eyes with that kind, yet piercing gaze that still brings joy to my heart.

“Love one another as I love you” (Jn 15:12). Those words of Christ from the Gospel of St. John are echoed by the actions of his vicar on Earth. As Christ loves, so Pope Francis loves—unconditionally—even when we are unable to return it.

As he loves, so should we. On our wedding day, my husband and I made a covenant to share this love with one another, “In good times and in bad,” and with our future children who we must bring up, “according to the law of Christ and his Church.”

Perhaps that is my answer. Pope Francis loves us because he wants us to love one another. He spends precious time with newlyweds every week to prove that this love is essential to the new vocation that we have been called to live.

Unconditional love. I feel small and incapable of such a difficult calling. Our faith teaches, however, “With God, all things are possible” (Mt 19:26).

So I step forward in confidence. On behalf of myself, my husband and all newlyweds, I also echo the request that the Holy Father makes nearly every day: Pray for me.

(Katie Rutter is a freelance writer and member of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington. For more information about obtaining tickets for a “Sposi Novelli” or “Newlyweds” blessing at the Vatican, visit www.pnac.org/visitorsoffice/audiences.)

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