FOUR INTREPID Catholics had an unexpected bonus to their cycling pilgrimage to Rome last month — a surprise p. ivate audience with the Pope.
When the four arrived in Rome after cycling the 1,200 miles from London in twelve days. all they hoped for was a good view of Pope John Paul through the crowds gathered in St Peter's Square.
But one morning while they were staying in Rome they received an unexpected telephone call from the Vatican. The message to the four pilgrims was mysterious. "Be at Castelgandolfo. the Pope's summer residence about 20 miles outside Rome, at 7.30 the next morning," they were told.
Still bemused, they arrived at Castelgandolfo to be ushered into the Pope's private chapel. As they entered they saw a kneeling figure dressed in white, obviously deep in prayer. It was the Pope. There was one other person present. Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
But the excitement was just beginning for the four pilgrims, trainee accountant Gregory Liele, medical student Denise O'Riordan, history teacher Doreen Cunningham, and Catholic chaplain to London University, Fr Thomas O'Brien.
After chatting with his guests, the Pope asked Fr O'Brien if he would help celebrate Mass for the six of them. Then he asked the two students if they would like to read the lesson. • After Mass, the Pope took his visitors into another room with Mother Teresa, and talked about their journey from London, and their efforts to raise money for the charity fighting the disease, cystic fibrosis. in children.
The pilgrims, who arrived back in London at the end of August, had had no warning at all that the Pope might want to meet them. Fr O'Brien said: "Never in my wildest dreams did I believe anything like that would happen to me.
"I suspected that the Vatican heard about our fund-raising ride through my order (the Assumptionists) and told the Pope.
"To be asked to celebrate Mass with the Holy Father is something I will treasure forever. For the girls, Doreen and Denise. it was an unbelievable experience. We all felt so proud and honoured."