Morrilton couple meets pope

Alan Hoelzeman is speechless as he grabs the hand of Pope Francis I

MORRILTON (Petit Jean Country Headlight) - A Morrilton couple had a unique and moving experience on a recent trop to Italy and Vatican City.

Alan and Regina Hoelzeman visited the Vatican as a celebration of their 25th wedding anniversary. While there, the Hoelzemans toured many of the popular sites in Rome, including the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter's Basilica and the tomb of St. Peter.

But, for Alan, the most memorable part of the trip was meeting with Pope Francis I.

After missing a chance to see the pope up close during his weekly audience with the public, the Hoelzemans were told to attend the Mass later that night in celebration of Pope Francis officially becoming the bishop of Rome. It was there that Alan was able to meet the pope face-to-face.

Hoelzeman said the opportunity came about after he had to rest in a wheelchair following a long walk to the church. A security officer noticed Alan in the wheelchair and sent him and his wife inside the church and placed them along a corridor where the Mass procession was to take place.

Alan said he could see the pope enter the church and hear the crowd erupt just before he began walking right toward Alan and Regina.

"I looked at my wife and said, 'This is not really happening, is it?' and, sure enough, he came right up to me," Hoelzeman said. "And when he came up to me and put out his hands, I just grabbed his and I couldn't even talk. It was just the greatest thing that could ever happen to anybody, I think."

The Hoelzemans' visit to Rome and meeting with the pope came only weeks after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the subsequent election of Pope Francis I, and they say they consider themselves blessed to have had the experience to get that close to the pope.

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