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A close encounter of the papal kind

By Donis Tracy Pilot Correspondent
Posted: 10/2/2015

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Boston pilgrim to Havana Maryellen Barrett takes a "selfie" photo as Pope Francis returns to his vehicle after blessing a woman in a wheelchair just feet way from Barrett. Pilot photo/courtesy Maryellen Barrett

HAVANA -- Throughout the week, tens of thousands of people lined the sidewalks and streets in the U.S. and Cuba just hoping to catch a glimpse of Pope Francis, even from a distance. But one Boston pilgrim got a closer view than she expected.

Maryellen Barrett and her husband Jim were among a group of 85 area Catholics who travelled to Cuba together with Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley to participate in the Papal Mass in Havana's Revolution Square, Sept. 20.

As they were waiting for the Mass to start, "the scene just kind of developed," explained Jim Barrett.

According to Jim, the pair decided to leave the area where the group was seated in order to stretch their legs.

"I really just needed to move around," Maryellen added. "And so we were in an area with about 35 other people there, when security guards and other official vehicles appeared."

"And then the Popemobile was there," Jim interjected, "and it started coming toward us at a 45 degree angle. It was very bizarre watching the pope driving at us."

Maryellen recalled seeing a young woman in a wheelchair being pushed by a nun. Seeing them, the pope stopped his vehicle and approached the woman in the wheelchair, just feet from Maryellen.

"He blessed her and then got back in the Popemobile," she said. "It was one of the most intimate, amazing, you-just-can't-believe-this-just-happened moments. I mean, I just can't find the right words -- there are no right words. He just pulled right over to her."

But then, Maryellen seized the opportunity. "Me, being me, I had to turn the phone around and snap," she laughed. "I just had to prove to everyone that I was there. That I really witnessed this."

"The whole experience was amazing, overwhelming but yet calming and spiritual," she added. "I felt like I witnessed something very personal."