I had always dreamed of the day I would see the Pope.

On Tuesday, my dream was catapulted through the looking glass and into reality.

I was one of the lucky 500 or so individuals to greet Pope Francis Sept. 22 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

My mother once told me of the time she held Pope Saint John Paul II’s hand when he visited Venezuela.

She said she felt the aura of holiness and tranquility radiating off of him as if he were the sun in the middle of a hurricane, unfazed by the chaos.

I thought about this story as I pushed through the crowd to catch a glimpse of Pope

Francis. My 5-foot-3-inch frame made it difficult to see him pass by the fence line and into the Air Force base, the heads of those around me blocked the view of the man who I admire for a variety of reasons.

Pope Francis is the first Latin-American Pope; he is a man forged by the aggressive governments that collided in his native country of Argentina and a savior to those who were in danger of death squads.

He is someone that understands and fights for those who are too weak or too petrified to speak out and raise themselves out of the dirt below their knees and under their nails.

To say that I was excited to see him would be an understatement.

I embarked on this adventure to see the 265th Pope of the Catholic Church around 9 a.m.

The Catholic Terps crammed into the metro and we were off to St. Philip’s, a parish near Andrews.

From there we hopped on shuttles to the base. I chanted along with the other hundreds of participants cheers such as “Ho, ho. Hey, hey. Pope Francis is on the way!” or “Ho, ho. Hey,hey. Francis welcome to the USA!”

My favorite chants were the ones in Spanish, the Pope’s native language. As an immigrant, I understand the importance of hearing your own language.

I applauded the Archdioceses of Washington for these welcoming cheers and realized the impact they would have on the Pope and on listeners whose native language is Spanish, as nearly 40 percent of the world’s Catholics are from Latin America.

After some issues, we finally arrived at the checkpoint where the Secret Service was waiting for us. After lining up, we were led through metal detectors and told to wait in the airplane deposit unit.

We sat in small groups and discussed the way we are walking with Pope Francis, a reference to the pledge the Archdioceses promoted in order to prepare local Catholics for his arrival—be more productive through prayer, get involved with community or any methods to enhance your faith and spirituality.

Once it was time to head to the bleachers near the runway,my heart began to beat faster. I saw that we were about 50 or 60 yards away.

Almost two hours later, the Pope’s mammoth airplane arrived. My cell phone battery was down to 14 percent and I begged it to hold on.

The energy in the stands cranked up to the highest degree as the plane landed and the stairs connected to the doors, the media filing out first. I impatiently jumped up and down and I accidentally grabbed the hair of my friend who stood in front of me.

The Pope appeared smaller in stature than I expected, waved for a second and walked slowly down the stairs to the chant of “se ve, se siente, el Papa esta presente!” which means, “you see, you hear, the Pope is here!”

It is a surreal experience to see one of your heroes so close to you, walking and shaking hands with President Obama and a line of cardinals.

It’s simple but bizarre to think that I was in his presence, surrounded by hundreds of others, who were shouting his name just as loudly and passionately as I was, begging him to bless us.

He quickly entered the VIP suite, where he stayed for less than five minutes, before heading out again. He smiled to the crowd, got in his Fiat, and went to the dinner at the White House.

It went by quickly and only lasted about 10 minutes, but I am thankful to have been a part of such a historic moment. I will always remember seeing the Pope arrive for the first time in the U.S. and getting to be one of the hundreds of voices that greeted him to our country.

My cousins and other friends messaged me throughout the day to tell me they had seen me on various news channels. I am still in shock that I was on international television.

Also, getting to be less than 10 feet away from Obama and the First Lady was pretty extraordinary. I screeched to the First Lady that she was “very pretty” and before Obama went back into the VIP suite, he looked directly at me and winked.

I spent what would have been an otherwise ordinary day enraptured in a moment that was charged with excitement and raw joy, clothed in the chaotic dress of time.

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Flickr user Julian Ortiz.

headshotKarla Casique is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at karlacasique@hotmail.com.

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