Saint Therese, working overtime for a Cherry Hill woman in Rome

My Catholic starter kit

VATICAN CITY — “You, here,” grudged the Basilica’s guard, whose frame resembled a linebacker. Tilting his head to the right, he passed me off to the second in command behind him, permitting me to surpass a line that encompassed Saint Peter’s Square. Thousands were waiting to enter to celebrate Mass with Pope Francis for Our Lady of Guadalupe, but not me, a little New Jersey kid in her slacks and loafers.

With another nod to the third guard, I was quickly shuffled to a ramp entering Bernini’s colonnade that read restricted access. “Signora,” he bowed, sweeping his wool jacket across me, as he pressed open the gate.

Gleefully entering, I thought, “Saint Therese, you really outdid yourself this time.” The saint and I have a close relationship because each week on Wednesday morning, I kindly request the same petition. “I overslept for Pope Francis’ audience, I don’t have a ticket, and I don’t feel like running. Please save me a good seat.” Without fail, I always have one. Today, however, was different, due in part to a Vatican employee who saw me with Cardinal Pietro Parolin on Thanksgiving day.

Like clockwork, I placed her prayer card, Father Frederick Link’s business card, and my baptismal rosary — my Catholic starter kit — on the front row barrier.

Pilgrims from Mexico proudly poured in to honor their patroness, who appeared to Saint Juan Diego in 1531. Soon Pope Francis hobbled down the aisle, an arms length away. He is but so solemn in these processions — a completely different man than the one you see smiling on his popemobile.

As the Mass was in Spanish, and there was no hope to learn a new language in one hour, I opted to close my eyes and just listen to our Holy Father’s voice. “I must write him a letter, and give it to him at the audience tomorrow,” I silently stated. “Saint Therese, you know the drill.”

When he processed out the Basilica after Mass, clutching his holy crucifix, I watched his gold and white robes grow further distant. At that moment a middle-aged Chinese woman tapped my arm. She pointed at my phone, and handed me a post-it with her name and number.

“Would you like a ticket to tomorrow morning’s audience?” she asked. My jaw dropped in utter disbelief, as my patron’s prayer card rested in my coat pocket.

“Look,” she showed me, as she pressed her phone toward my open palms. Lo and behold, a photo of Pope Francis centimeters away from her phone’s camera. “I will save you a seat tomorrow. I arrive at 7. Now, let’s go,” as she pulled me away from my seat and out of the Basilica.

Dancing home to “La Vie En Rose,” I peered at the Carmelite Church across from my apartment, where a chapel is dedicated to my dearest confidant. Whispering a little prayer, I noticed a man nearing. He raised a bouquet of roses the very moment he passed by.

Julianne Calzonetti was born and raised in Cherry Hill, where her family were members of Saint Pius X Parish. She is currently pursuing an Arts/Media Management Master’s degree at the American University of Rome.