Christine Accurso said she made the trip of a lifetime in traveling to Rome for the April 27 canonization of St. John XXIII and St. John Paul II.
Accurso’s husband, Aaron, presented her the trip in celebration of her 40th birthday last September. St. John Paul II, she said, had an enormous effect on her life.
So what was it like being there for the canonization?
“It was electric. I felt like I was in heaven for a few moments,” Accurso said. “I really felt like as he was being acknowledged in heaven, that I got to look through a little peephole and I could see, he’s really there.”
At one point, a Chinese nun jumped over the gates and ran up, ignoring shouts from security for her to stop.
“She ran right up to his tomb just to kiss it,” Accurso said. “And then she said, ‘OK. I’m done. He’s my everything,’” she said. Accurso said she could relate to that feeling.
“I’d say 60 percent of my formation as a human being was from him [St. John Paul II]. So just to know that he is there makes heaven real,” Accurso said.
The Mass itself, she said, “was calm in the sense that it was peaceful and it was exciting. There was just a very holy feeling about it,” Accurso said. “The universal Church was the most exciting part of all.”
Once Pope Francis declared John XXIII and John Paul II to be saints, Accurso said, the cold, overcast day was lit up by sunshine. Every bell in the city of Rome rang out.
Evangelizing through media
Prior to the pilgrimage, Accurso, executive director of 1st Way Pregnancy Center, said she wasn’t using Facebook much. The journey to Rome, however, made her realize that Facebook could be a tool of evangelization.
She also knew that many of her friends who were unable to make the trip could feel a part of it through her posts. After the first couple posts, Accurso noticed that more than a hundred people were following along. Some of them had been away from the Church for years.
“They were asking questions and sending private messages, so I encouraged them to go back to their faith,” Accurso said. “It was fun to be able to share the gift my husband was giving me with the whole world.”
Prior to leaving for Rome, Accurso was interviewed by ABC15 Arizona. A British Airways employee in Phoenix named Scott recognized her from the report. The two talked about the faith and Scott mentioned that he loved Pope Francis, especially since he, too, enjoyed taking “selfies.”
That’s when Accurso suggested the two take their own selfie, Pope Francis style. Scott allowed her to post the photo on Facebook and followed her postings from Rome. “We prayed for Scott every single day during our trip,” Accurso said.
When the couple returned to Phoenix, they saw him again at the airport. Scott thanked them for “taking him along.”
“That’s what Facebook is all about. It’s about sharing your life experience, getting to know another on that level,” Accurso said. “That’s how we can use Facebook or social media to glorify God.”
Among the many friends, family and former classmates who followed Accurso’s journey were those who had left the Church. Although she doesn’t have her phone number posted, they tracked her down and had plenty of questions.
“I told all of them, ‘Just check it out again. Maybe you have issues, maybe you don’t like something, but you loved all our posts.’” Accurso urged them to go back to Mass and start asking questions.
The fact that social media played such a role in Accurso’s journey and that of many other pilgrims as well, struck her as befitting of the legacy of St. John XXIII, who opened the Second Vatican Council.
“He said, ‘Let the Holy Spirit go out of the Church and into the world.’ We can take the Holy Spirit and put wonderful messages of the Good News out into social media,” Accurso said.