Pope's Surprise Visit to Contemplative Nuns at Vatican

Carmelites Were Having Dinner When the Doorbell Rang

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VATICAN CITY, MARCH 2, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The nuns of the cloistered convent in the Vatican received an unexpected visit from John Paul II when night had already fallen.



The Pope's meeting with the nuns of Mater Ecclesiae convent took place Feb. 11, feast of Our Lady of Lourdes and World Day of the Sick, but the news was only made public now by the information bulletin of the Discalced Carmelites.

The nuns themselves tell the story of what happened in a letter they wrote a few minutes after the Pope's visit, which they sent to their sisters in religion.

The letter explains that the nuns were dining in silence in the refectory, listening to the recording of John Paul II's address to the sick, gathered in St. Peter's Basilica earlier in the day. The text follows.

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We were listening to a tape of the Pope's address to the sick who had filled St Peter's Basilica that very afternoon.

All of a sudden the loud and unexpected sound of the bell at our door made us all jump: what could be the matter? It has to be something serious ... an accident, a fire? One of the Sisters ran quickly to the door, but because the sound of the bell did not stop Our Mother also ran to help. When they arrived at the door they both heard someone shouting: "It is the Holy Father! Open the gates, quickly!"

Our Mother rushed back into the house to pick up the keys and at the same time the Sisters switched on the outside lights; it was very dark outside and the driver of the Pope's car was complaining: "It's pitch-black here, how can we get in!" Meanwhile, the Holy Father sat patiently waiting for the gates to open.

The gates eventually opened and the Popemobile, headlights on, eventually passed through. We saw the Holy Father smiling. He greeted us, then gave us his blessing. The look on his face suggested that he was happy and satisfied at having surprised us with this unexpected visit!

Sitting next to him were Their Excellencies Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz and Monsignor Mieczyslaw.

Once inside the convent proper the vehicle stopped, the plastic sides that surround the Popemobile were lifted up, the steps were lowered. The Pope's private secretaries got out of their car and invited Our Mother to get in beside the waiting and still smiling Pope. He asked her: "How many are here?" Then Our Mother said: "Your Holiness, I know that you love Carmel very much, please bless all Carmelites." He consented and gave a blessing.

One by one the Sisters approached the Holy Father, each one said a few words and received a blessing. We are all struck by his penetrating gaze which seems to search to the heart.

All this took place in an atmosphere of great simplicity and cordiality. While the Sisters were taking turns to sit beside the Holy Father, we sincerely thanked Archbishop Stanislaw for having taken the initiative to stop at the Convent in returning from the nearby Lourdes Grotto, where the Pope had wanted to conclude this special Marian day.

When the last Sister met the Pope, we joked that we should begin all over again ... but Monsignor Paolo De Nicolo, with a smile, only allowed Mother to return. And so, with a final blessing, and after singing "Tota Pulchra" we said our goodbyes to the Holy Father. We followed the Popemobile down the slope to the gates, we were moved as we watched the Pope leaving, all the time continuing to wave. Then, the Pope's car and all the cars of his entourage disappeared into the distance ... and we remained with hearts full of gratitude and joy.

But it was not over yet. About thirty minutes later, while we were in the recreation room, there was another long, loud ring. It was someone from the Pope's residence bringing a large box of chocolates, a delicious cake, a bas-relief in wax of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross [Edith Stein] and a fine and artistic candle which we immediately lit and put at the feet of the Blessed Virgin.

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The Mater Ecclesiae convent of contemplative nuns in the Vatican was founded by John Paul II in 1994, to enrich the Roman Curia with the presence and prayer of religious dedicated to contemplation.

By instruction of the Pope, the community of the convent changes ever five years, the period of duration of their assignment in the Curia.

In 1994, the convent had a community of Poor Clares. The present community of Carmelites, who come from several countries, arrived in the Vatican in September 1999.