It was the year 2000 when Mike and I renewed our wedding vows in Rome. I was traveling with our ministry to the Holy Land and Mike caught up with us in Turin, Italy. We were in Turin to visit the Shroud located in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. From Turin there we traveled by tour bus through Genoa, Florence, Assisi, and then reached Rome.
Father Pat Hussey, a Jesuit priest from Ohio, served as our chaplain for the trip. It was a special blessing to have Father Pat because we celebrated Mass at all the holy sites in Israel, as well as different basilicas in Italy. We have known Father Pat for several years because he always took his vacation in California, visiting family, and was affiliated the St. Pius V in Buena Park, California. Father Pat was part of our family as well, officiating Sonja and Russ’ wedding (daughter and son-in-law). He has since gone home to be with the Lord.
St. Paul Outside the Walls is a grand cathedral that once served as the original Vatican and now is one of the four major Basilicas in Rome. St. Paul’s remains are housed in this cathedral. The St. Benedict chapel is located on the right side of the basilica; a marble sculpture of St. Benedict towers over the altar. It was here that Mike and I were surprised by our team, with Joanne (ministry leader) making arrangements ahead of time for us to renew our wedding vows. Since this was a surprise, both Mike and I dressed casually for the event, but what we experienced next was an added blessing. During the ceremony, stranger walked into the chapel, and quietly interrupted the service, saying that he had to give me something. Father Pat kindly reminded the gentleman that we were in the middle of the service. The man did not leave, but rather stood in the back of the chapel. I had never met this man and did not understand what his visit was about. Father Pat continued with the service, Mike and I were so gratified and humbled in renewing our wedding vows, that our marriage would now have the blessing of the Church. Again, the man came to the front, and said in Spanish, “I must give her something.” With that, Father Pat paused and allowed the man to present me with the gift. It was the most unusual rosary that I had ever set my eyes on. Ornate and bigger that the normal-size rosaries, he explained that he made the rosary with his own hands and that God told him to give it to me. The man was short is stature, and when introducing himself, he did not give his name but only stated that he was from Spain. He asked me if I knew anything about Garabandal. Having just read about the apparitions that had occurred in this region of Spain, I was somewhat surprised and answered “yes.” As he handed me the rosary, the gentleman explained that the rosary contained a piece of a page of the visionary Concita Gonzales’s personal prayer book that was kissed by the blessed Mother. With that said, the team wanted to know if the Spanish gentleman had more rosaries. The man said no, just this one. With all the excitement we took a few pictures of the Spaniard, and then we turned our attention to the beauty of the rosary. By the time we were done admiring the work of the gifted craftsman, the man disappeared. I wanted to thank him again but he was gone. We finished the ceremony with great adulation and Mike was still wondering what the heck just happened. Mike kept asking if I knew the Spaniard or if the team was part of this surprise too. “No, I had never met him,” I told Mike. This happened way before the iPhone, so I could not wait to get home to have the pictures developed. I was sure the man was an angel; typically angelic beings do not show up in pictures. We developed the pictures and sure it enough my hypothesis was proven wrong; there was the Spaniard, clear as day. After a careful examination of the rosary I discovered that the back inscription read “Besado por la Stanta Virgin Garabealal,” translated “Kissed by the Blessed Virgin Mother Garabandal.”
Joanne said this was a gift from God because of my service to the homeless. I have no understanding of this event other than it was indeed holy and I love that Mike was there to witness it first hand.
Next week will mark another milestone in our lives. Mike and I will celebrate 45 years of marriage, and he has surprised me with a trip to Rome.