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A vivid childhood memory

A 10-SECOND face-to-face encounter with Pope John Paul II remains a vivid childhood memory for a young Brisbane woman.

Marisa Dann, of Zillmere in Brisbane’s north, was an eight year-old when she was one of the few among the 70,000 people at Mass with the Pope at QEII stadium on November 25, 1986, who had the chance to receive Holy Communion from him.

She had only received the sacrament for the first time about a month or so earlier.

‘It was kind of funny,’ Marisa, now 25 and working as a lighting technician at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, said.

‘There was a raffle drawn in primary school, and my name was picked out of a hat.

‘Four weeks later I was off in a bus to go to a school on the southside. That was where everybody met – then we went off on a big bus to the stadium.’

Marisa was the only St Flannan’s Primary School, Zillmere student to receive Communion from the Pope, and would have been among the youngest.

The Pope had made it a custom to personally give Communion to a selected group of people at his outdoor liturgies.

Papal visit organisers decided that in Brisbane this group would be made up of students from Catholic schools around Queensland. There were 40 from Brisbane archdiocese, 15 from Rockhampton, Cairns and Toowoomba dioceses, and 16 from Townsville.

‘It was quite amazing for me,’ Marisa said. ‘I was absolutely aware of the privilege and honour I had at the time. I certainly didn’t take that for granted.

‘I was a little humbled about what was going on. I was so young.’

The moment of receiving Communion from the Pope is clear in Marisa’s mind.

‘I can remember his face. There was never any eye contact. He was very patient. He took his time. For each person, he put in 10 seconds. It wasn’t rushed at all.’

Marisa said she, like everybody else, had not known what to expect.

‘There were thousands of people crammed into a stadium. It was quiet chaos … almost reflective – not like going to a football match …

‘All it did was enforce how I was brought up was in a huge community, and that was seen on that day – that whole sense of community.

‘You could feel the passion in the air, and the whole reason (the people) were there. The atmosphere was intoxicating.’

Marisa said seeing the world leader of Catholicism in front of her and being personally involved in the event made her Catholic upbringing ‘real’.

‘If you believe in Catholicism, you’ve got nothing to see – you’ve got your own faith and beliefs.

‘When you see the leader of Catholicism in front of you, (you realise) the structure’s there. Thousands of years of political and religious history is right there in front of you.’

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