By Paul and Alison Morisi
On Valentine’s Day 2014 we were lucky enough to travel to Rome to listen to Pope Francis address to engaged couples. Not only was our trip amazing, but the experience of being there and listening to His Holiness speaking about marriage and how to prepare for not just our wedding but our call to service through marriage.
This year, as husband and wife, we were able to return to Rome, again to listen to the Holy Father, again because of our wedding, but this time with the privilege to not only meet him, but receive a blessing by him.
Our ability to meet Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square was through a program called Sposi Novelli, an encounter for newlyweds with the pope. The website for the Pontifical North American College says:
“To qualify as a newlywed couples (sposi novelli), couples must be married within two months of the audience they wish to attend, carrying with them a copy of the Sacramental Marriage Certificate signed by their priest, and wearing their wedding attire.
“The Holy Father will bless them for a happy wedded life when he gives his general blessing at the conclusion of the Papal audience.”
On Feb. 18, at 6:30 a.m., in full wedding attire, we walked from our hotel, just outside the Vatican walls and made our way to St. Peter’s Square. After walking through the square, we were brought to a special seating area. We were seated with approximately 20 other couples, most of whom were fellow Americans, and together we listened to the pope’s general audience.
The past few weeks, Pope Francis has used his general audiences to address the important topic of the family. On this day, he chose to discuss siblings and their importance to society and the family make-up. He advised us to look at those in our society as brothers and sisters and to regard them with respect.
Before the general audience concluded, Pope Francis had these kind words for us newlyweds: “Lent is a favorable time to intensify your spiritual life: may the practice of fasting be of help to you, dear young people, to acquire mastery over yourselves… lastly, may works of mercy help you, dear newlyweds, to live your marital life by opening it to the needs of your brothers and sisters.”
After his message, we waited on a line with the other sposi novelli couples to be greeted, we were half way down the line. When Pope Francis came to us, we introduced each other to His Holiness. He greeted us with a huge smile. Alison said in Spanish, “Holy Father, we love you in the Diocese of Brooklyn.” His smile grew.
We then offered him a white zucchetto. There is a longstanding tradition that if one offers the pontiff a new white zucchetto he will trade you the one he is wearing for the one being given to him. Pope Francis laughed, took ours and said “Looks like it fits” then gave us the one he was wearing. After we thanked him, he put a hand on each of our shoulders and asked us to pray for him. There is something very humbling being asked by the leader of the Catholic Church to pray for him.
When we were finished, we walked off the line and proceeded to head back to our hotel (which was no easy task for Ali in her heels on the cobblestone streets of Vatican City). It was a not only a wonderful way to begin our marriage, but a moment we will cherish for the rest of our lives.