When your marriage is barely a week old, and it’s already been personally blessed by the highest authority in the Catholic Church, that’s a nice omen toward a lifetime of happiness.
Ben and Erin Perry, who were married June 2 at St. Mary’s Church in Corning, had desired a honeymoon somewhere in Europe and ended up choosing Rome “because there’s so much history and you can see a lot without traveling all over the place,” according to Ben. Of course, being devoted Catholics, a trip to the Vatican ranked high on their sightseeing list.
They got that and much more, receiving a blessing from Pope Benedict XVI on June 13. This pleasant occurrence has given them a bit of celebrity status since their return to Corning.
“We’ve had to tell the story quite a few times,” Erin said with a laugh.
The Perrys had sought to attend a general papal audience in St. Peter’s Square, which included a special seating area for Catholics married within the previous two months. They were able to secure a spot at the audience through the office of Bishop Matthew H. Clark as well as the North American College in Rome.
“We didn’t really know we would meet (the pope) until we went to North American College the day before, and found out that pretty much all the newlyweds were going to meet him,” Erin said.
On June 13 they were required to arrive at St. Peter’s Square several hours before the audience began. Despite the heat and crowd around them, Erin recalled that “we were pretty excited sitting there — ‘are we really here?'”
The Perrys sat approximately 50 feet from where the pope gave his address. The 90-minute session began with an introduction in several languages, followed by the Gospel of the day. The pope then offered a reflection on Eusebius of Caesarea, the first historian of the Catholic Church who preserved key information about the church from the early centuries. Finally, the audience sang the Lord’s Prayer in Latin.
Pope Benedict then approached the area where the Perrys were sitting and began speaking with individuals. The crush of people straining toward him intensified, but Ben and Erin managed to get in position for their brief but monumental meeting.
“He greeted us and asked where we were from. He asked in English if we were from the United States,” Ben recalled.
“We were excited and didn’t know what to say, so I just took his hand and kissed his ring,” Erin added. “It was an honor to be there and see his face right up in person.”
Ben noted that excitement was the prevailing sentiment throughout the papal audience.
“It’s very hard to describe. It was very surreal, kind of a charged-up sort of atmosphere — Italian schoolchildren chanting ‘Benedicto’ and clapping, people from all over the world. It was amazing,” he said.
Erin said the experience really drove home for her the meaning of the universal church.
“People, it seemed, were from like every country in the world. That was what most impressive, three hours or more of soaking that in,” she said.
Also during their honeymoon, the Perrys added to their memories of Rome by visiting such historical sites as the Colosseum, in the city’s center; the catacombs, a series of underground burial galleries; the Pantheon, a famous temple that dates back to the time Christ walked this earth; and Appian Way, an ancient Roman road. In addition they took a day trip to Pompeii, a ruined city near Naples that was completely buried by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Erin said these sites, along with “a Catholic church on every block” in Rome, gave her a real appreciation for early Christian and Catholic Church history.
Ben, 27, is originally from the Town of Campbell and was baptized at St. Joseph’s Church. Erin, 21, is from Pine City, between Elmira and Corning, and her family attends nearby Mount Saviour Monastery. The couple splits their Sunday-Mass attendance between St. Mary’s, St. Vincent de Paul Church in Corning and Mount Saviour. Ben works at Hardinge Inc. in Elmira as an electrical technician, and Erin is a graduate student at Alfred University studying school psychology. They met at Corning Community College and dated for three years before getting married.
The newlyweds’ meeting with the pope was not a long one — “everyone wants to hear about it, but it’s difficult because there’s not a lot to say,” Ben said — but the memories will last far longer.
“It’s a special honor. Everything I read about him now has more meaning, because I’ve seen him in person. I can’t think of anybody else who would be a bigger deal,” Erin said.
“That’s a good way to start a marriage,” Ben acknowledged.