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Iowa teen suffering from cancer meets pope at Vatican, gets blessing

Pope Francis blesses Kylie Hayworth of Le Mars, Iowa, March 4 in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. The 19-year-old parishioner of All Saints Parish has terminal brain cancer. The trip was arranged through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (CNS photo/L√ĆOsservatore Romano)

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LE MARS, Iowa (CNS) -- A young parishioner in the Diocese of Sioux City recently had the chance to meet Pope Francis.

The circumstances of that meeting make it all the more powerful and unique.

Kylie Hayworth, a parishioner at All Saints Parish in Le Mars, chose to visit the pope as her wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The 19-year-old has terminal brain cancer.

"When the pope first walked up to us, I blanked out and forgot his name for a second," Kylie said. "It was exciting."

Pope Francis March 4 placed his hands on her head and prayed over her. He also blessed her rosaries.

Kylie's mother, Linda Hayworth, said Pope Francis was like anyone else you would meet on the street -- very kind and loving.

"He wanted us to pray for him after I asked him to pray for our family as we were having a hard time dealing with the news of Kylie's time left on earth quoted by the doctors," Linda told The Catholic Globe, newspaper of the Sioux City Diocese. "I asked him to wave to my other daughter, Haley and my husband, Kyle, up near the podium where the pope gave his speech. He did!"

She mentioned Pope Francis asked them several times to keep him in their prayers.

After meeting the pope, Kylie told the family how nice he was.

Make-A-Wish had lined up a tour guide to take the Hayworths to the Vatican.

"I can say that St. Peter's Square, meeting the pope, the zoo and the Vatican were the highlights of the trip," said Linda. They had planned to go to a museum but it was a three-hour wait, so they skipped it and took a walk. "We found our way to the zoo -- had so much fun there."

This trip would not have been possible without Make-A-Wish, stressed Linda. The organization put the trip together within three months.

"We also had the help of Father Kevin Richter (pastor at All Saints Parish) and Father Shane Deman to make this trip a success," she noted.

The Hayworths credited Father Richter with making several phone calls to help line things up. He had made the contact with Father Deman, a Sioux City diocesan priest, who is studying in Rome.

"I am very happy for Kylie and her family to have had this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Father Richter said.

Father Deman explained he met the family upon their arrival in Rome and got them settled into their hotel, but it was the Make-A-Wish Foundation that handled the request for papal audience tickets. He also met up with them later in the week for lunch and a bit of touring in the city.

"I'm thrilled that Kylie got a chance to meet the Holy Father," the priest said. "It is certainly a great sign of her faith that she wanted to use her one wish to meet the successor of Peter and receive a blessing from him. Kylie seemed to thoroughly enjoy her week in Rome and absorbed everything she could. I was blessed to be able to share in her enthusiasm and am impressed by her courage and strong faith."

Two years ago this March, an MRI confirmed Kylie had medulloblastoma, cancer at the base of the brain. Complications followed surgery to remove the tumor and Kylie developed posterior fossa syndrome, which can result in problems with speech and language, motor skills, and mood changes. Since that time, she has had five more surgeries.

Since her diagnosis, Kylie's mantra has been Philippians 4:13 -- "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Kylie goes to physical, occupational and speech therapy every week for the side effects of her brain surgeries. She has paralysis on the left side of her face and had to have her left eyelid partially sewn shut as she can't blink.

"She still, to this day, has a good attitude and tries her hardest without complaining," Linda said.

She noted they are going to try one "last resort" chemo, but added the first round was extremely difficult for Kylie.

"We are hoping for a miracle or cure to come." Linda added, "We all will have trials and challenges, just know that God is with you even if you don't feel it. We have had a lot of support from people all over -- thoughts, prayers, donations, and so on. We thank everyone for that."

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Webb is senior reporter at The Catholic Globe, newspaper of the Diocese of Sioux City.

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