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VATICAN LETTER Feb-2-2005 (670 words) Backgrounder. With photo. xxxi

For Pittsburgh newlyweds, a series of unfortunate events

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- When Pope John Paul II gets sick, millions of people pray for him, and thousands of people can end up losing a special chance to see him.

But the pope's Feb. 1 hospitalization and the cancellation of his Feb. 2 weekly general audience were particular blows for Americans Valerie Pajak and Gus Glyptis.

The couple missed an opportunity for a papal blessing and a wedding photo with the pope -- for the second week in a row.

Pajak and Glyptis were married Jan. 22 in St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh.

In planning their honeymoon, they had three goals: visit Krakow, Poland, where her grandparents came from; visit Greece, where his family's roots are; and visit the Vatican.

Pajak said her father told her about Pope John Paul's general audience practice of personally offering his blessing to Catholic couples who have been married less than two months.

"It made a big difference in how we planned our trip," Glyptis said.

But the honeymoon plans kept falling apart; "I wondered if I had a black cloud hanging over my head," the groom said.

First, a late-January snowstorm on the East Coast of the United States, combined with the well-motivated but ultimately disastrous flight changes suggested by an airline employee at the Pittsburgh airport meant the couple missed their flight from Philadelphia to Rome.

A woman from Italy and a priest from Pittsburgh also missed the plane, so they were stranded in Philadelphia with the newlyweds.

The four of them managed to find only one hotel room.

"The first night of my honeymoon, my husband slept on the floor, I shared a bed with the Italian woman and the priest slept on the other bed," Pajak said.

"We all bonded and helped each other," she said. "The Italian woman had a cell phone, we got the hotel room and the priest provided the grace of composure."

The couple used the Italian's phone to call Mercy Sister Anthony Mary, who works at the U.S. bishops' office for visitors in Rome, and told her that instead of arriving the day before the Jan. 26 audience they would arrive at 8:30 that morning.

They said the nun advised Pajak to change into her wedding gown at the airport, then take a taxi straight to her office to pick up the special tickets and get to the Vatican.

The plane arrived at 10 a.m., just half an hour before the audience was scheduled to begin. There was no way to get their luggage and make it all the way into the city on time.

"It was obvious we missed it," Pajak said.

So, paying a change fee, they rearranged their European flights so they could meet the pope Feb. 2.

They were putting on their coats Feb. 1 to go meet Sister Anthony Mary and pick up their tickets, when they saw on the television news that the pope was sick and the audience was canceled.

"All the color drained from my face," Pajak said.

Msgr. Roger C. Roensch, director of the papal visitors' office, was able to comfort them.

"Msgr. Roensch said God must have something else good in mind," Glyptis said.

Now, the couple said, "we are just praying for the pope."

But after "hauling my wedding dress all over Europe," Pajak was not about to leave it in the suitcase or hanging in a hotel room.

Like Italian newlyweds often do, the couple dressed in their wedding attire and went to St. Peter's Square Feb. 2 to take some photos.

Other tourists shouted congratulations and "auguri," or best wishes, and the Swiss Guards in an unusual gesture offered to pose for a picture with them.

"I'm with my husband," Pajak said, "this cannot be anything but perfect."

The newlyweds were not the only U.S. visitors who missed the pope.

Sister Anthony Mary had requested 764 tickets for U.S. visitors, including tickets for parish pilgrimages from Schenectady, N.Y.; Houston; Shelby, Mich.; and Stroudsburg, Pa.


Copyright (c) 2005 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
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