In a bittersweet story on a girl with cancer who got to meet the Pope.
A member of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish in Joliet, Ceballos explained that she had found hope through prayer amid the trials of enduring chemotherapy and the challenging recovery process after undergoing surgery to remove the growths within her left knee. “During these hard times my faith grew stronger and stronger. I had a wish to visit the pope and receive his blessing,” added the fifth grader at St. Joseph School in Joliet during an interview with the Catholic Explorer March 24 at her school.
“She’s a tough kid,” said Terence Ziesmer, principal at St. Joseph School. Describing the student as “brave” and “hard-working,” the Catholic school administrator praised the youngster for her religious beliefs and convictions. “I’m so impressed that she choose to go to Rome,” he added during a telephone conversation with the Explorer.
Talking about her bout with cancer and her once-in-a-lifetime experience at the Vatican as her friends and fellow students participated in classes nearby, Ceballos reflected upon making the nearly 10-hour intercontinental trek to see the leader of the Catholic Church. The child of faith said, “I wanted his blessing to get better.”
Describing the fateful day that she actually came face-to-face with Pope Benedict, the youngster said, “From a distance I could see the popemobile approaching.” The bilingual youngster admitted that she was especially delighted when the pope uttered parts of his message in Spanish and English.
After his public address, Pope Benedict blessed all the congregants, she said. He then invited the sick and immobilized in attendance at the audience, including Ceballos, to come forward and receive special individual blessings. “I was filled with emotion and happiness. My wish had finally come true,” she said, recalling the moment.
Ceballos expressed her appreciation to the staff of the Joliet-based Wish Upon A Star Foundation for making the idea of visiting the pope into a reality for her. “This was the best vacation that I have ever taken,” added the grateful child.
Don West, executive director of Wish Upon A Star Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to fulfilling the dreams of seriously ill children from Will County, mentioned that the Joliet child’s request to see the pope in person is the first of its kind since the doors of the organization were opened nearly 30 years ago. “Disney World is the No. 1 trip,” he said. Funded through private and public donations, the foundation typically arranges the trips and covers financial expenses for the child and his or her family. Packages often include curbside limousine service to and from the airport, airfare, car rental, lodging and food. Money for souvenirs and mementos is also provided. The Ceballos family’s trip cost approximately $7,500, he said.
Families with children who suffer from serious health conditions are typically “strapped from medical bills,” West said. Because of the organization’s mission “they can go on these trips without having to worry,” he added.
When asked why she chose a trip to Rome and a chance to see the pope, Ceballos said anyone could attend a concert or professional sports event, share a few moments with a celebrity or a professional athlete. “But, there is only one pope. Seeing him was a dream come true,” said the faithful child. Reflecting upon being only a few feet away from the leader of the Catholic Church, she said, “I was so excited and happy. I never thought I would ever be there. I still can’t believe I was there.”