TERMINALLY ill mum Karen Cassady is facing the last few years of her life with supernatural joy after meeting Pope Francis in Rome.
Mrs Cassady was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer, an incurable disease that has left her with a one per cent chance of living another five years.
Doctors have told her she will never be in remission, as at the time of her diagnosis the cancer had already spread to her hips and back, but being a non-smoker she has at least two to four years.
The Brisbane mother of four children under 10 years old said she was “stunned” to hear the diagnosis.
“I was absolutely frozen,” she said.
“We didn’t see any of that coming.”
Initially given 12 to 18 months to live, Mrs Cassady and husband Graeme Cassady, parishioners at the Sts Peter and Paul, Bulimba, booked a month-long trip to Europe.
“Given that we had that shock we said we had to do something to make some memories for the kids,” Mr Cassady said.
Before leaving the country, Mr Cassady flung around the idea with Bulimba parish priest Fr Tom Elich of getting his wife tickets to the Pope’s general audience at St Peter’s Square.
But Fr Elich said their visit to Rome would not coincide with a general audience but a Papal Mass for the Feast of the Epiphany.
“He said, ‘Would you like to meet the Pope?’” Mr Cassady said.
What started as a general comment to see Pope Francis became a reality when the Cassadys received an email while in Rome confirming they would meet the Holy Father at St Peter’s Basilica two days later.
The family had been confirmed as gift bearers for the Feast of the Epiphany Mass on January 6, along with another Italian family.
The pair was also allowed to greet the Pope and take up their own prayers.
Mrs Cassady summoned up the courage to say “Buongiorno Pope Francis”, and was met with a warm, heart-felt smile from the Pope, who had been informed about the dying mother.
“I just wished I could have as long as possible because that was the best I could ask for,” she said.
Mr Cassady said he was “dumbfounded” and “in tears” before the Holy Father.
“It was magnificent and it was truly great and all those type of things, but my prayer when I went up there was to help our family through this tough time,” Mr Cassady said.
After the Mass, the family also met Australian Ambassador to the Holy See John McCarthy and former Sydney archbishop Cardinal George Pell.
The pair said Cardinal Pell looked weary, but when he heard Mrs Cassady had a terminal illness, he stopped to lay hands on the mother and said he would bring her prayers to the Pope at a meeting the following week.
“You could see genuine concern on Cardinal Pell’s face,” Mr Cassady said.
“That was just a private moment.
“It was unbelievable.”
The family’s trip to Rome ended at the conclusion of the Mass, but they were beginning to learn that they became new-found celebrities, having been part of a televised Mass broadcast to millions across Italy and the world.
“We’re checking our bags are the right weight and this woman comes up and starts talking,” Mr Cassady said. “She said, ‘I’ve just seen you on TV’, because they broadcast the Mass live.
“And she said to us, ‘So many bambinos’.”
Two months after the trip of a lifetime and announcing his prayer intention to the Holy Father, the emotional father said his prayers had been answered.
“Whether it’s the holiday or whether it’s the Pope – I put it down to the Pope – our family now has had some of the best times as far as happiness, and we are so content and happy as a family, living in the moment,” he said.
Mrs Cassady said life after meeting the Pope had been positive despite knowing she would never be in remission.
“We feel that having that time in Europe and having that chance to meet him has just started the year off so beautifully,” she said.
“We just let it go and live in the moment and are creating all the memories we can and just so enjoying it.”
Mr Cassady said the “utter support” from their parish, school community, colleagues and family was what led to their meeting with Pope Francis.
“In a way, seeing the Pope is a symbol of the support that we’ve had all the way through,” he said.
“The whole Pope meeting was the pinnacle of a couple of Brisbane people who’ve gone there; the support of the community got us up to there.
“This community has given us total and utter support and understanding.
“Not that cancer is a good thing, (but) you can either look at it all bad or take the good things that come out of it.
“A lot of good things have come into our lives.
“Even if we knew everything else, we wouldn’t change it.”
The pair are also holding on to four sets of Rosary beads, blessed by the Pope, and ready for the children’s First Holy Communion.
“The Rosary beads (symbolise) the mother of God, and mother of our children …,” Mr Cassady said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
While eldest son Willem will receive his this year from Mum and Dad, Matthew and Bethany might not be so blessed.
“By the time of their Holy Communion, Karen might not be here for them,” Mr Cassady said, with tears in his eyes.
Until then, the Cassady family are happy to live in the moment and pray, with the help of Pope Francis, for a miracle.
“It really started to change after we met the Pope,” Mr Cassady said.
“Whether my prayers worked or coincidence, who knows, I know what I put it down to.
“It’s just magnificent.”