On Valentine’s Day 2014, as an engaged couple, we were lucky enough to travel to Vatican City to listen to Pope Francis’s address to engaged couples. Not only was our trip amazing, but the experience of being there and listening to His Holiness speak about marriage and how to prepare not just for our wedding but for our call to service through marriage was inspiring. This year, now as man and wife, we returned to The Eternal City, 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 from him.
Our ability to meet Pope Francis in Saint Peter’s Square was through a program called Sposi Novelli (“newlyweds”). This was an easy process and we would recommend it to anyone who is thinking of attending. What is Sposi Novelli? It is an encounter for newlyweds to meet and be blessed by the Pope. The website for the Pontifical North American College says:
“To qualify as a newlywed couple (sposi novelli), couples must be married within 2 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 February 18, 2015, at 6:30 a.m., in full wedding attire, we walked from our hotel just outside the Vatican walls to St. Peter’s Square, where we would meet Pope Francis. After walking through the square, we were brought to a special seating area for all the newlywed couples. We were seated with approximately twenty 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 discussed 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 kinds words for the newlywed couples: “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”. The call to the vocation of marriage is most certainly a special one. The Holy Father’s words call us to serve not just one another but also our brothers and sisters in our community. We must approach this call seriously to bring about the Gospel.
After his message, we waited in a line with the other sposi novelli couples to be greeted; we were half way down the line. Then, 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 long standing 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 back to our hotel (which was no easy task for Ali in her heels on the cobble stone streets of Vatican City). The sposi novella blessing was not only a wonderful way to begin our marriage, but a moment we will cherish for the rest of our lives.
For more information about the newlyweds’ blessing in Rome, and to request tickets, please visit the website of the Pontifical North American College: http://www.pnac.org/visitorsoffice/audiences/#sposinovelli.
See also: “A Vatican Valentine’s Experience,” by Paul Morisi and Alison Laird
About the author
Paul Morisi is the Coordinator for Adolescent and Young Adult Faith Formation for the Diocese of Brooklyn, and Alison Morisi is a second grade teacher at St. Saviour Catholic Academy in Park Slope, Brooklyn.