WASHINGTON – Before Pope Benedict XVI headed to a prayer service with the U.S. bishops April 16, he had a series of brief encounters with an extremely small group of people both inside the Vatican nunciature and outside it.
“You are as close as anyone’s going to get to the pope this week,” declared an American priest to the group.
Of all these encounters, none could have been closer, or more unexpected, than Pope Benedict’s meeting with 9-year-old Dillon Smith of Charles Town, W.Va.
Dillon wants to be a priest when he grows up, according to his mother, Kelly. Dillon’s eyesight is fading. “We were told (by a doctor) what it was when he was 5,” Kelly Smith added. “We knew something was wrong when he was 1.”
The boy is already legally blind, and is likely to go totally blind at some point. Dillon was to have a doctor’s appointment the day after he and his mother came to the nunciature as part of a group of 130 or so people, mainly from three parishes in the Archdiocese of Washington.
“We know people who let us use their tickets,” Kelly Smith told Catholic News Service. She and Dillon made the two-hour drive from Charles Town to join members of Assumption Parish in Washington boarding a bus for the nunciature.
Once there, Father Scott Woods, an associate pastor, made an appeal on Dillon’s behalf directly to Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican’s nuncio in Washington. Archbishop Sambi told the priest he would ask Pope Benedict if he would see the boy.
Moments later, Dillon was lifted over the waist-high barriers separating the faithful assembled on the nunciature’s front lawn from the property’s circular driveway, and ushered into the building.
He was in the nunciature a long time. So were others – representatives of foundations that give generously to the Vatican, clergy of all stripes, Catholic school students – but none seemed to excite the crowd more than the impromptu plucking of Dillon Smith into the nunciature.
Only after Pope Benedict had issued his greetings, offered some blessings (including kissing a baby’s head) and departed for the prayer meeting did the others emerge.
And for all the buzz generated outside the nunciature, Dillon seemed remarkably nonplused by his encounter.
One friend asked him what it was like meeting the pope. “I’ll see you on the bus” was Dillon’s reply.
Another friend asked Dillon if the pope had healed him. “I’ve got an appointment with my doctor tomorrow,” he said. “We’ll see.”