When Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States this past April, millions of people witnessed his travels on television.
Tens of thousands heard him speak at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. and Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. Hundreds were within earshot when he celebrated Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and addressed the United Nations.
Scores were close enough to greet the pontiff personally and to shake his hand. But only one person had that moment captured in a photograph that appeared on the cover of a leading Catholic magazine.
And that was Fordham freshman Caitlin Willis.
“I was completely elated in the truest sense of the word,” Willis said of her encounter with the Pope. “It was less of a handshake, actually. He grasps your hand and holds onto it and looks into your eyes; it was a very piercing moment.”
She met Benedict XVI as part of the Choir of Communion and Liberation, which performed on April 19 during the Youth Rally at St. Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie) in Yonkers, N.Y.
The Bay Ridge, Brooklyn-based choir was part of the music ministry that provided interludes between messages by the Pope and Edward Cardinal Egan, bishop of the New York Archdiocese.
“It was particularly stirring and important for me,” Willis said. “The Pope spoke with great certainty and great authority, but in a loving way. He said, ‘I haven’t come to impose the faith, but to enlighten by it,’ which I found very striking.”
As the crowd cheered, the pontiff felt compelled to approach the choir and mingle with its members.
“There I was, in front of the Vicar of Christ, who has the authority to say that the meaning of life is love, and in such a loving and caring way he took our hands in his and told the young people to have courage,” she said. “It was incredible to be in front of a man who was so completely extraordinary and exceptional.”
Willis said that the experience will live with her forever, but should it start to grow dim, she can pick up a copy of the May 5 issue of America magazine, which captured on its cover the exact moment when Benedict XVI shook her hand. The photo was taken by a Catholic News Service photographer.
“Being on the cover was cool, but more than that, it shows that this was real—that something so beautiful actually took place,” she said.