April 6, 2018


Pope’s encounter with boy shows God’s love in our fractured world

While there continues to be chaos in various hot spots on the map, seemingly endless violence in other places, and a lack of respect and love for many of our brothers and sisters around the globe, leave it to Pope Francis to show us an instrument of God’s love is still very much a part of our fractured world.

And we believe it is no coincidence that the Holy Father’s actions occurred during Holy Week.

While taking part in his weekly general audience on March 28, the pope granted a 12-year-old American’s wish and then some.

Peter Lombardi of Columbus, Ohio, who has Down syndrome, and his family had been hoping to see Pope Francis in 2015 during the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. However, those dreams were dashed when the boy became ill with leukemia.

While receiving chemotherapy treatment, Peter was watching the papal visit from his hospital room with his family when a representative from the Make-A-Wish Foundation arrived.

His mother Brenda said the representative asked, “ ‘So Peter, what is your make-a-wish?’ And Peter said, ‘I want to be kissed by that man who is kissing all those children on TV,’ ” Brenda Lombardi told Catholic News Service (CNS).

(Though they couldn’t grant that wish, Make-A-Wish Foundation officials said they will be able to grant Peter’s second wish, a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader at Disneyland, in 2019.)

After Peter was cured from leukemia last June, the Lombardi family decided to embark on a pilgrimage to Rome, Assisi and Medjugorje to thank God for Peter’s healing. They arrived in Rome on Palm Sunday.

They hired a guide, Mountain Butorac, who works for a Catholic travel agency, to give them a tour of Rome. Butorac was also able to arrange for the family to stand in the front row during the pope’s general audience in St. Peter’s Square to possibly make Peter’s dream come true.

“We never thought it would come to fruition. You can’t come to Rome and expect Pope Francis to kiss your child among the millions of people,” Brenda Lombardi told the Cable News Network (CNN) via telephone from Rome.

But Peter’s wish didn’t end there.

After a security guard lifted Peter over the railing of the popemobile so he could get a kiss from the pope, the Holy Father told his security detail to give the boy a seat behind him and, together, they circled the square.

As her son waved back and smiled, Brenda Lombardi cried.

“He was gone for like 20 minutes riding with the pope, and the pope kissed him and blessed him,” Brenda Lombardi said.

While riding in the popemobile with the boy, Pope Francis was given a balloon shaped into a crown.

Peter said he made one more request in the popemobile.

“[I said], ‘Thank you, pope, give me a balloon,’ ” Peter told CNS. The pope immediately placed the balloon crown on Peter’s head.

Faith has been at the heart of the Lombardis’ journey, and they credit God for helping Peter overcome cancer, as well as guiding him through other tough times.

“I thanked [God] for always surpassing our expectations when it comes to our faith and our trust in him,” Brenda Lombardi told CNN. “You think that when your child gets leukemia, it is a heavy cross and a battle, but through the experience, it was just full of grace. God just kept giving us so much hope.”

The significance of Pope Francis’ gesture wasn’t just a dream come true for Peter and his family, but a sign that God had bigger and better plans in store for them.

“That’s how God works, right? We weren’t supposed to see Pope Francis in Philly, we were supposed to see him in the square, and Peter was supposed to ride in the popemobile with him,” Brenda Lombardi told CNS. “You can’t make this stuff up. So, we thank the Lord for his graces and his mercy.”

The Lombardis’ experience offers more evidence that, with God, all things are possible.

—Mike Krokos

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