Most couples who honeymoon in Rome return with a bottle of wine, say, or a photo of themselves at the Trevi Fountain.
Jennifer L. Gorczynski and Christopher B. Walker came back with the personal blessing of Pope Francis.
The bride, the daughter of Thomas S. and Linda A. Gorczynski of West Seneca, met her husband, the son of Peter and Roberta Walker of Monroeville, Pa., thanks to Ave Maria Singles, a Catholic matchmaking group. They were married at 2 p.m. May 18 in St. Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church, Williamsville.
Two priests celebrated the wedding, Father Joe G. Luisi of North American Martyrs Church, Monroeville, Pa., and the Rev. Dave Richards of St. Gregory the Great. A reception was held at the Park Country Club in Williamsville.
And then the miracle happened.
The Walkers went to Rome hoping for little more than a glimpse of the pope. Jennifer Walker, a litigation specialist for Bank of America, is a graduate of West Seneca East with a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and political science from Canisius College and a master’s of organizational leadership degree from Medaille College. She had done her homework, and she knew that on Wednesday mornings, the pope welcomes newlyweds. They are invited to wear their wedding clothes, gather in St. Peter’s Square, and receive rosary blessed by the pope.
“We would have been happy with that,” she says.
Her husband, a graduate of Plum Senior High School and a performance analyst at Highmark with a bachelor’s degree in computer science from University of Notre Dame, was nervous as he accompanied his bride to the square.
“He’s not a big crowd person,” Jennifer Walker says. “And it’s utter chaos, massive crowds pushing everywhere.” The crowd included archbishops, cardinals – and the Roman soccer team. The Walkers found themselves right behind star player Francesco Totti. “We almost got trampled when he walked in,” says Jennifer.
Then came divine intervention. The Walkers sat with a dozen other newlywed couples, mostly Italian. They thought they heard the couples asking the guards, “What about us?” After some confusion, they were directed toward the pope.
“I yelled to Jen, ‘Get your stuff, let’s go!’ ” says Chris Walker. He calmed his bride. “I said, ‘Jen, breathe.’ ”
Suddenly, Pope Francis was right in front of them.
“He just exudes joy,” Jennifer said. “He put his hand on my shoulder, then took our hands. He asked what our names were. We said we just married last weekend. He said, ‘Many blessings on your marriage. Have the joy of Christ in your life always.’ ”
Pope Francis then blessed them with the sign of the cross. Dazzled, the Walkers kissed his ring.
The couple celebrated in Buffalo style, by going out for pizza. They pondered Pope Francis’ humility and accessibility.
“We could have asked him to dinner,” Jennifer jokes.
Still in their wedding clothes, they had to be accessible themselves, as dozens of tourists insisted on taking their picture. “People were applauding us,” Jennifer says. “They were shouting the Italian words for ‘Best wishes.’ ‘Auguri, auguri!’ ”
How do you follow such drama?
After an emotional trip to Assisi, home of St. Francis, the couple are now at home in Pittsburgh.
With the pope’s blessing.
– Mary Kunz Goldman