By RENEE WEBB
A honeymoon trip to Italy centered on a papal blessing was a fitting choice for faith-filled Iowa newlyweds.
Ann (McLoughlin) Blaser, a 2012 graduate of St. Edmond High School in Fort Dodge, and her husband Matt Blaser, a graduate of Cedar Rapids Xavier, were married Aug. 18 at St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames. Four days later, they had their marriage blessed by Pope Francis.
“We were actually planning to go backpacking at Glacier National Park for our honeymoon before I got the information on how to do the papal blessing,” explained Ann, the youngest of a family of eight. “When we found out that was an option, it was a no-brainer. It would have been incredible to get the blessing by any pope, but we especially love and admire Pope Francis, so it was an extra special moment for us.”
A friend’s marriage was blessed by the pope a few years earlier and Ann learned the pope offers Sposi Novelli (the newlywed blessing) at every general audience. Through an inquiry to the Bishops’ Office for the United States Visitors to the Vatican, the couple learned they needed no tickets for assemblies held in August.
“They told me to wear our wedding attire and bring our marriage certificate signed by a priest within two months of the General Assembly and show up a few hours early at the Vatican, so that’s what we did,” said Ann, who noted they took a taxi to the Vatican and eventually saw other couples in their wedding gowns and suits.
Given the extreme heat, the gathering was held indoors and all newlyweds were given privileged spots at the front of the large room, across from groups of visiting nuns. Those in wheelchairs were given space in front of the newlyweds. The Blasers and others waited for several hours, taking photos and trying to communicate with others who spoke various languages.
Following a Scripture reading proclaimed by a cardinal, the pope offered a homily and then gave various group and individuals blessings as well as took photos with several groups.
“He held all of our hands as individual couples and looked us in the eye and smiled and a few of the couple talked to him,” Ann said.
The thing that stood out most for Matt was wondering what to say to Pope Francis. During the experience he noticed how much the couples were conversing with the pope. Starting to panic, Matt was unsure if he should ask the pope to pray for them, tell the pope they were praying for him or share other thoughts.
“What do we say?” questioned Matt, admitting they were both starstruck. “What could I possibly say to him that he hasn’t already heard? I certainly do not mean to say that the pope is all-knowing or that the laity have nothing to contribute, but it was something that we did not think about beforehand.”
While Matt wishes he had given some thought to what he would say, the Iowa native said he will never forget the warmth that permeates Pope Francis.
For Ann, what stood out about the experience was the people in the audience.
“There was just so much joy and love and camaraderie in the room even though it was so many people from so many places who couldn’t understand each other,” she said. “I just got an awesome feeling of how God brings all sorts of people together in a way that we don’t notice our differences.”
To see the faithful cry when the pope entered the room was powerful for Ann, who acknowledged she teared up a few times.
It was important for Matt to take part in this blessing because knowing “marriage will last the rest of our lives, we will certainly need every blessing we can get. Couples do not have to go to Rome in order to receive a blessing, but it was a unique opportunity to draw connections to our faith.”
While Matt doesn’t believe a blessing from the pope is any more powerful than from a priest or bishop, from a human standpoint it was different.
“Pope Francis has a warmth about him that you can see on TV or in a picture, but actually being with him in person impacts you,” he said.
Ann said it is important for them to make sure God is still number one in their lives and in their marriage – not even the spouse is higher.
“That’s something that is really a struggle with the culture we’re surrounded with, so we are doing everything we can to make sure we treat our marriage like the vocation that it is,” she said. “I can’t think of a better way to start a marriage with God at the center than to have a great servant of God like the pope bless our marriage.”
If ever they have times of difficulty, Ann said the memories and photos should serve as a great reminder of the importance of marriage and help them focus on God.
The Blasers, who met at Iowa State University in Ames, now reside in Eagan, Minn., near the Twin Cities where Ann is a fire protection engineer for the City of St. Paul, Minn. and Matt is a project accountant for a construction company.
“I just think it’s amazing that the pope is humble enough to take the time to bless individual couples and people with disabilities when he has so many things to do and worry about,” said Ann. “It’s really incredible and is a good example of what being Catholic means to me.”