How Pope Francis Made One Family's Dream Come True

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Jeannie Castillo shares the story of how her sons received the blessing of a lifetime. “It is important to dream in the family.”

The words of Pope Francis seemed to wash over me in waves at the Mall of Arena as I sat in a sea of 20,000 with my husband and two sons. Being there seemed exactly that, a dream that was all too surreal to process.

Jamie and Jack with Pope Francis-Cropped

Months before, my mother had called me and asked: “Do you want Jamie to see the Pope?” The idea seemed so unlikely that I quickly dismissed it, thinking it would never be possible. Our eldest son Jamie was born with Down Syndrome and has always been the saint of our family. He’s brought out the best in all of us, made us closer as a family, and has been the inspiration for so many blessings in our lives.

When my mom found out that the Pope was having a special encounter with families on his trip to Manila, and that tickets were available for families of children with special needs through the church, the thought of actually seeing the Pope up close seemed like an impossible dream. How would we ever get to see him in a crowd of 20,000? Would it be safe or even feasible for us to safely bring our family to such a huge event? Would Jamie, and our younger son Jack, be alright during the entire event?

But my mom had a dream for Jamie and Jack to meet the Pope. Tirelessly, she went through a series of hoops inquiring with our parish and then with the diocese, being sent from one level to the next, to apply and ask for PWD tickets to the MOA event. Tickets were limited, and only PWD’s with their immediate family members were being granted tickets. I had insisted that my mom try applying for tickets for her and my dad to join us, but the seats were too hard to come by. “It’s okay. You need to go with your family. My dream is for you and your boys to be there together,” she said.

January 16 finally arrived, and my parents excitedly sent us off with hugs and prayers as we headed to MOA. Mom said, “If you are able to get close to the Pope, remember to ask for blessings for Jamie and Jack!” I promised I would try, but in my heart, was doubtful. Still, I hoped.

I was completely speechless and entirely humbled when we arrived at MOA and were led to seats in the seventh row, right behind the gated area for other PWD families in wheelchairs. The Pope really does have a heart for PWD families, and we were grateful and honored to be seated with other families with children with Down Syndrome, and other special needs.

The moment that Pope Francis finally entered the Arena was incredible. The crowd cheered and sang as one big, happy family full of smiles and overwhelming joy. As Pope Francis made his way to the front of the Arena, Jamie and Jack got so excited. They quickly began to run toward the gated area near the stage hoping to see him. We were stopped though, by a security guard, signaling that we could only go so far. Pope Francis was about 5 feet away. This was it, the closest we would get to him I thought. I was humbled by the blessing to be so close.

But here’s where an even greater surprise miracle happened. As we stood with the guard at the gate of the enclosed area, we could see the Pope slowly approaching as he blessed the PWD families in wheelchairs on the other side of the gate. Suddenly, a bishop came up directly behind us, and advised the guard he needed to enter the enclosed area to be near the Pope. In order for the bishop to enter, the guard allowed us to enter as well and before we knew it, we were now inches away from the Pope, flanked by his impressive security detail.

My mother’s dream stirred me to move--if only Jamie and Jack could be blessed by the Pope.

My maternal instincts kicked in, and I feverishly asked the first bodyguard, “Please, can the Pope bless my sons?” A quick nod, led me to bodyguard #2: “Please, can he bless my sons?” Another nod, and finally to bodyguard #3: “Please, can he bless my sons?”

This guard seemed to be the strictest of them all, but when he glanced at Jamie with his soft upturned eyes and joyful smile calling out to Pop Francis, he eventually nodded, stepped aside, and signaled for Jamie and Jack to approach the Pope, who was just a few inches away from us.

It happened so fast. I could barely register what was happening. We were actually standing directly behind the Pope when the guards allowed the boys to come forward. My shaking hands missed being able to capture the moment on my phone altogether, except for a quick video snapshot of the bottom of the Pope’s immaculate robe, and impeccably shined shoes. I knew that Jamie and Jack had been blessed, but I actually didn’t get to see it or capture any of it on my phone. Still, I was overwhelmed with emotion to be so near, humbled to “touch the bottom of his cloak” as the Bible passage goes, and thrilled beyond words to know that my children had been blessed.

Only days later would we eventually come across another happy surprise: there it was on Yahoo! Philippines, a perfectly clear picture of Jamie and Jack with the Pope! The moment I thought would only be etched in my heart had been captured by the Vatican’s official photographer. I was speechless and in tears again. Days later, we would discover the same picture posted on the Vatican Facebook Page, and weeks later, in Philippine Star. Somehow, God had made it all possible for us to see and be blessed by the Pope, and now to have the perfect remembrance of such an amazing moment!

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My mother’s dream, which started off as a seeming impossibility, had come true. My sons had received the blessing of a lifetime, and I had been reminded of some very important life lessons that will stay with me forever: * Never forget to dream. From the tiniest seeds, big dreams can grow. The Pope’s words couldn’t have been more true. My mother’s dream for our family became a reality through God’s amazing grace. Miracle after miracle allowed everything to fall into place at exactly the right time, and I will forever be moved by how God blesses dreams borne out of faith and love. * Ask, and you shall receive. As mothers especially, we should never cease dreaming and praying for the very best for our children and families. Ask, ask, and ask again is the lesson I learned both from my mom, and from the Pope’s bodyguards, to whom I will always be grateful. I learned that God really is waiting to bless us and our families. All we need to do is allow ourselves to be moved, and ask with an open heart. * Allow God to surprise you. When Jamie was first given to us, his having Down Syndrome was definitely a surprise. Through the years, I’ve come to recognize and embrace that both Jamie and Jack have led me to some of the greatest blessings in my life. In Pope Francis’ words: “God reveals himself through surprises.” I will forever be grateful for the amazing surprise that led us straight to Pope Francis and his awesome blessing upon our family, through our sons. Once again, because of Jamie, our family life is fuller, happier, and more blessed.

Looking back on our lucky encounter, I continue to feel humbled and thrilled beyond belief, amazed that it all really happened. For the rest of our lives, we will forever be changed, knowing that God truly moves in miraculous ways, and thankful for the love, inspiration, and miracles that Pope Francis has brought to our family and the Philippines!

Thank you, Pope Francis for your love, for your grace, and for reminding us to always keep dreaming!