Rome, Italy, Jun 11, 2013 / 09:35 am (CNA).- As he stood next to St. Peter’s Square, former NFL quarterback Rich Gannon reflected on how his family’s first visit to Rome deepened their faith.
The Gannons had been thinking about a trip to the Vatican for years and their faith has always been important to them, but the election of Pope Francis made things even more personal for Rich.
“I was really excited when Pope Francis became the Pope. I went to a Jesuit private boys high school in Philadelphia … so to have a Jesuit become a Pope was kind of special to me, having been trained by the Jesuits,” he told CNA June 10.
The former Oakland Raiders quarterback, along with his wife and two teenage daughters, spent a few days visiting the Eternal City’s churches and also got a chance to see the Holy Father.
“We had a private (papal) audience with 150,000 other people here in the square. … And even though it only lasted a couple minutes, we did get a blessing,” Gannon joked.
The importance of what the Church does to preserve and promote art also struck them and they signed up to become Vatican patrons of the arts.
“We’re learning more and more about what they’re doing to preserve so many beautiful pieces of art that have been left for us to be able to appreciate and enjoy as a family,” Rich Gannon said.
“The chance to come over here and see the restoration process, projects and the work they’re doing – I think it’s really impressive,” he remarked.
The trip also had an impact on Rich’s wife Shelley and his daughters Alexis and Danielle.
“To be able to do it as a family, all four of us together, it’s been a trip we dreamt about for a long time. … it just strengthens our faith as a family so much,” Shelley Gannon commented.
Their oldest daughter, Alexis, agreed and said she hopes to grow “a little closer to God” through the trip, which also helped her glimpse “the future of the faith in Pope Francis.”
The Holy Stairs, which tradition says Jesus walked on as he faced Pilate and then went to his death after being scourged, were also on the Gannon’s itinerary.
Danielle Gannon was most touched by going up the stairs on her knees, as many pilgrims do.
“There were actually windows on the stairs, which are covered with wood,” she explained.
“You could see the blood that Jesus shed.
“You could feel the pain of kneeling down on the stairs,” which made her think about “what Jesus went through for us to be able to save us from our sins,” she said.