The members of the Wish Foundation opened their eyes wide.
– Really?! – one of them said, a young man who didn’t look all that comfortable with silence.
Peter lowered his eyes. So many thoughts were flooding his mind… concerning time, mostly: a rare and valuable commodity, if it’s about to expire…
But he was sure of that, more than he had been of anything in his seventeen years.
– Yes – he confirmed. – I’m convinced… that I’d be perfectly fine… if I could get… a tour of the Vatican… –
The volunteers exchanged looks with each other. Some expressed astonishment, some pure bewilderment. But it was Peter’s Wish.
The boy turned towards the window of his bedroom. Although he seemed indifferent, his spirit was actually bubbling up.
Was it so weird?
The volunteers nodded. They couldn’t promise Peter they’d be able to grant such a wish. But they ensured him they’d do everything in their power.
Peter nodded in his turn. He was happy, though he couldn’t show his feelings. A chance, although remote, was more than he had had over the last few months, more than he had even dared to hope. And a fragile hope is better than no hope.
Peter’s life had changed when he was sixteen, during the summer: a nagging cough, followed by an unusual, overwhelming fatigue led his parents to consult a specialist.
Pneumonia was suspected. But far worse was true. Stage-four non-Hodgkin lymphoma. A ten centimeter mass, settled in the boy’s left lung, which was pressing on his heart.
For Peter, this was the beginning of an ordeal made of exhausting rounds of chemotherapy, depression, excruciating questions about what God had planned for him. His father, Tom, and his younger brother, Johnny, decided to shave their heads to show Peter they were fighting the same battle as him. But the boy found more comfort in his Faith.
For this reason, one of his friends had created 1.200 green wristbands with the simple words “Praying for Peter” on them, along with the boy’s favourite Biblical passage.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
(Romans 8, 28).
Then, one day, the volunteers of the Wish Foundation had arrived.
“Great…” Peter had thought.
He knew it was a charity which every year grants a wish to a few hundred children and young people suffering from extremely serious diseases.
Peter knew what it meant: he was terminally ill. And it was hard to focus on a wish, being aware it was the last…
At that point, however, what did he have to lose? Actually, there was something he had always dreamed of…
– I’d like to meet the Pope – he had said.
And, unknowingly, he had just changed his destiny’s route.
Then said Martha unto Jesus: – Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died!
But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee -.
Jesus saith unto her: – Thy brother shall rise again -.
Martha saith unto him: – I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day -.
Jesus said unto her: – I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;
And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? –
She saith unto him: – Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world -.
(John 11, 21-27).
Peter sighed. Lazarus had been brought back to life. But how many are given a second chance…?
– 14.000 dollars. It’s not a lot -.
Unseen, Peter raised an eyebrow. Clearly, he and that woman had two different concepts of wealth. The boy sighed. In the end, he told himself, it’s all a matter of perspective.
Because it was true. His Wish was among the cheapest ones the Foundation had ever granted. Surely, though, it was the most special one.
And May came. It was a fine spring morning in Rome, and the sun enjoyed kissing the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City.
It was an end-month Wednesday – the day of Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly audience: the humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord who had gathered the important legacy of a Giant of Faith – Saint John Paul II.
Peter was watching the Vicar of Christ from afar, beside his parents and his brother, and his heart was bursting with pride. His dream had come true. His smile was shining in the shade of Michelangelo’s dome, next to Bernini’s colonnade.
Peter savoured every minute of the audience – and yet, too soon, it came to an end. With a sigh, the boy focused in order to memorize as many details of that day and that place as possible: he wanted to keep that memory as one of the most precious in his short life.
And then, out of the blue, a priest approached. He told Tom a few words. The man’s eyes began to sparkle.
Peter turned to his father. And Tom told him, in a trembling voice, that they had to line up. They had been invited to talk to His Holiness himself.
A million different feelings were glowing in Peter’s soul while he was approaching the Pontiff. At the beginning, it had been total euphoria. Now, though, embarrassment was taking over.
Because all the faithful, who had been given the same, great honour, were offering the successor to Saint Peter some invaluable presents: golden crowns, a wonderful painting of the Virgin Mary…
And Peter was the only one without anything of value to give the Vicar of Christ, but his heart… His father handed him his own wristband, one of those asking a prayer for the boy. Just to avoid showing up empty-handed.
And the time came. And, for a moment, Peter almost felt faint. He was in front of Pope Ratzinger, towering – being nearly six and a half feet tall – over the diminutive Holy Father, yet he couldn’t help but feel in awe. He was overcome with emotion.
And yet, Benedict XVI’s smile was so sweet, so full of feeling… And Peter was stretching out his hand to the Pope, offering him that wristband which had seemed such a poor gift…
But the Pontiff held it in his hands and his smile grew even brighter, and with all his deep humility, with all his fatherly care, the Vicar of Christ silently asked that boy what was troubling him.
– Yo…Your Holiness… – Peter stammered, – I… I have cancer… –
And he couldn’t say anything else, but a feeble prayer. A blessing.
The boy bowed his head. But, in a wholly unexpected way, Benedict XVI took Peter’s hand in his own left and, at the same time, put his right hand on the boy’s chest – in the exact spot where the tumour had put down its gloomy roots.
Peter opened his eyes wide. Usually, the Pope gives the blessing by laying his hands on the faithful’s head, and the boy had never mentioned the anatomical location of the alien mass which was eating him alive from the inside out!
However, his confusion lasted only a moment, then it made way for a pure, innocent happiness, for a sense of well-being which wouldn’t have disappeared: indeed, it would have increased day by day, even after returning to Colorado, like an avalanche which grows stronger at every moment.
Until Peter saw the amazement again on the faces around him – but they were different faces, wearing white coats, and the amazement went together with an endless joy.
Because the fight was over, and Peter had won. The doctors were trembling with emotion. That boy, whom they had quite written off, was fully healed.
[He] was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.
(Luke 15, 32).
Obviously, his situation was quite different from the prodigal son’s case. Yet, leaving aside some inappropriate parallelism between spiritual desert and physical suffering, Peter felt that the two stories had some affinity. Sometimes, there can really be a second chance.
The bells were ringing. Sound of joy. Yet, lately, Peter felt much closer to the sound of silence: like Elijah the prophet who, ignoring the force of the wind, the violence of the earthquake, the fury of the fire, went out of the cave, where he had taken refuge, only at the whisper of a still small voice.
The boy raised his eyes to the sky. His questions hadn’t changed… he was still wondering about the mission entrusted to him by God.
His mood, though, had changed. No more distressing doubts. Just a deep peace, and a sense of gratitude which went together with the irresistible urge to offer the less fortunate even a single drop of the light he had been given.
He was looking at a photograph on his nightstand. It had been taken that morning in late May, in Saint Peter’s Square. With a smile, Peter thought about a motto he had happened to hear at that time.
“There are four kinds of theologians in the world: bad theologians, good theologians, excellent theologians, and Joseph Ratzinger”.