VANCOUVER—For two newlyweds from Richmond, meeting Pope Francis in Vatican City had all the thrill of a hockey game.
Joseph and Marion San Jose flew to Rome for their honeymoon two days after tying the knot at St. Paul's Parish in Richmond May 30.
"We were super nervous to find out if we were going to meet the Pope or not," Joseph said. "We had no idea what it was going to be like."
Pope Francis greets newly married couples every Wednesday after his general audience in St. Peter's Square. The San Joses got tickets, asked a priest to send a letter to Rome confirming they were Catholics, and packed their wedding attire.
A few days before the wedding, the pair came up with a unique gift for the Pontiff if they met him: a #15 Pope Francis Canuck jersey.
"We wanted to do something special," and avoid the all-too-familiar gift of maple syrup, Joseph said. They chose #15 for the year 2015.
The pair arrived for the audience three hours early sporting a wedding dress and suit June 3. They shuffled through the busy square, passing security guard after security guard, wondering if they'd get anywhere close to the Pope.
Pope Francis came out around 10 a.m., read the daily reading, and gave a short reflection that was translated into several languages. When it was over at 12:30, he started greeting people.
"When he got to us, the way he engaged with us, he made us feel like there was nobody else in Italy," Joseph said.
The newlyweds told him: "We love you and we're praying for you." They gave him the jersey and Marion explained in broken Italian, "It's our hockey team!" Photos of that encounter were soon caught up in a social media storm.
"A lot of people are really focused on the jersey part," Joseph said. This young couple's "pilgrim-moon" (pilgrimage-honeymoon) to Rome was about starting marriage on the right foot.
"Our faith is very important to us," said Joseph, a missionary with Catholic Christian Outreach, a youth leader, and a musician. Marion, who has also been involved in CCO, is a full-time nurse.
Clayton Imoo, the master of ceremonies at their wedding and a Canuck blogger who helped the couple secure the jersey, has seen that faith in action.
"A lot of the way they got together is through church, their love of music, and their love of ministry," he said.
"Despite all the hoopla and all the fanfare they got, they always come back to their faith and the fact that they were there because of the Pope and the blessing, not because they wanted to give him a jersey."
Joseph found the Pope's reflection that day, on family, marriage, and poverty, particularly interesting.
"We really want to live a very intentional marriage and really find a way to keep our faith in the centre of our marriage," he said. "Meeting the Pope helped us do that."