A papal blessing and a powerful bond with a young patient

November 1, 2015


Stephanie Gabaud, a 17-year-old with spina bifida, went to St. Patrick's Cathedral on Sept. 24 to see Pope Francis during his visit to New York City just two days after she had stitches removed from her most recent back surgery — one of many operations she's had throughout her lifetime.

Pope Francis blesses 17-year-old Stephanie Gabaud on Sept. 24 during an evening vespers service at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. Gabaud is a patient at the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center in Yonkers, N.Y. Pat Tursi, the center's president and chief executive in the green suit, right, accompanied Gabaud to the service.
Photo Credit: ©Joe Vericker

Gabaud is a patient at the Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center, a Catholic long-term care center in Yonkers, N.Y., with 137 beds for children with medically complex conditions. A board member of the pediatric center managed to get one of the sought-after tickets for Gabaud and another for the center's president and chief executive, Pat Tursi, to accompany Gabaud to the pope's evening vespers service at the cathedral.

When Pope Francis saw Gabaud seated in her wheelchair along an aisle in the crowded cathedral, he approached her. She reached out to give him a hug. "He immediately gave me a kiss on the forehead and gave me a blessing."

"Bless you, Papa," Gabaud responded in Spanish — she'd been practicing, she said. And she began to cry tears of joy, she said, adding, she would "carry this blessing and that moment for the rest of my life." She'd previously been blessed by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the United States in 2008 and she stays in contact with Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who has visited with her. All of the prayers from church leaders have meant a great deal to her.

Gabaud is recuperating at the pediatric center, which is sponsored by the Sisters of Charity Ministry Network. She hopes to return to her family's home in White Plains, N.Y., before Thanksgiving.

Tursi was deeply moved by Pope Francis' encounter with Gabaud, calling the moment "life-changing." She said she sees God's face in all the children at Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center, and she loves the work with the patients. But sometimes raising the needed funds for care and coordinating access to services can be arduous. Watching Pope Francis bless Gabaud was "such a moment of grace" that it reinvigorated her. "I'm good for another 20 years," Tursi said.


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